Based on a Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Lucky One, opening this weekend, spotlights an Iraq War vet (Zac Efron) who seeks out the beautiful girl in a photo he found in the rubble after a bloody raid overseas. (Watch the trailer below). The only problem? He can't tell her why he's fixated on her, and starts living a lie. That "star-crossed lovers encounter a heart-wrenching twist" trope is the most-ridiculed of the many throughlines in nearly all of the seven film adaptations of Sparks' books, including A Walk to Remember, The Last Song, Dear John, and, most famously, The Notebook. But it's certainly not the only one. Here, a look at the formulaic elements that make The Lucky One a by-the-numbers Sparks cliché-fest:
1. A complication keeps its leads apart
In A Walk to Remember, the heroine is cancer-stricken. In Dear John, the male lead is abroad at war. Zac Efron's character in The Lucky One "can't find the words" to tell his fated lover that he discovered a photo of her while serving in Iraq, carried it around throughout his tour, Googled her when he returned to the States, and moved across the country to be close to her. His stalker-like obsessiveness, says Allison Willmore at Movieline, seems "easily surmountable." He could just confess: After all, it's not like he was carrying around a nude photo of her.
2. War and Southern values play a part
The Lucky One takes place in the "spiritual America consisting of rowboats, ice cream, tire swings, faithful dogs, elbow grease, churches, and, of course, love of country" that seemingly only exists in Sparks' mind, says R. Kurt Osenlund at Slant. Anyone who's sat through The Notebook or Dear John knows that this film will "treat military personnel with respect, churchgoing Christians likewise and red state backdrops with fond, photogenic care," says Michael Phillips at The Chicago Tribune.
3. The couple shares a water-logged kiss
Fear not, Sparks fans, says Mandi Bierly at Entertainment Weekly. The Lucky One wouldn't dare call itself a Nicholas Sparks film without drenching its lovers' lips with water. The evidence: The legendary kiss during a downpour in The Notebook, the rain smooch in Dear John, the hurricane lip-lock in Night in Rodanthe, the ocean make-out session in The Last Song, the mid-storm love scene in Message in a Bottle, and so on. The Lucky One adheres to formula by setting a raunchy love scene in an outdoor shower.
4. It devolves into melodrama
As with all Sparks adaptations, says Marc Savlov at The Austin Chronicle, "you'll either find it toe-curlingly dreamy or ploddingly predictable," depending on your taste for melodrama. But, though The Lucky One is reliably "schmaltzified" and over-the-top, says Willmore, it "never reaches the grandly melodramatic height of the uber-Sparks adaptation The Notebook." The romance doesn't play out with as much conviction.
5. It's relentlessly sun-kissed
Visually, every Nicholas Sparks film is defined by the "amber glow" that permeates every scene, says Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter. The Lucky One's characters are continually assaulted by "sunsets and sunrises and sunbeams [shining] through the windowpanes," says Phillips. In one climatic love scene, "the sun pours through the window in such a way that the scene could be taking place on the sun." Oh, to live in this Sparks-ian world of "perpetual golden sunsets," says Osenlund.
6. The cheesy dialogue is "girl porn"
Sparks' films are known for romantic one-liners calculated to make female moviegoers swoon, says Mary Pols at TIME. The Lucky One's most "inexcusable" offender — "You should be kissed, every day, every hour, every minute" — is right up there with Dear John's "No matter where you are in the world, the moon is never bigger than your thumb," and that famous "we're gonna have to work at this every day" Notebook monologue. Actually, I ate it right up, says Connie Ogle at The Miami Herald. "If this movie isn't girl porn, I don't know what is."