Although it may not always seem so once it’s finished, generally those who work on a film are doing their best to make it as good as they can. They’re not in it just for the money or the fame. Making movies is the expression of their artistic nature. And during and after a production, each film’s family lives with the fear that no matter its efforts to make it a hit, the film could be a miss. Movie folk live with the realization that it is simply magic when a film works. No one, for example, had a clue during the making of Casablanca that it would become one of the greatest films ever made. All involved did their job and hoped for the best. They got lucky.
We’re lucky when a motion picture amuses and engages. We’re downright blessed when it doesn’t contain content that conflicts with our religious convictions. So, who will be fortunate with the upcoming film The Lucky One, a film about healing, but one that contains objectionable language and a couple of fairly graphic sex scenes?
Rated PG-13, the story, from Nicholas Sparks (A Walk To Remember, Message in a Bottle, The Notebook), concerns U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) returning from his third tour of duty in Iraq. He credits one thing for keeping him alive—a photograph he found of a woman he doesn’t even know. Learning her name is Beth (newcomer Taylor Schilling) and where she lives, he shows up at her door to thank her. But Logan suddenly finds himself unable to tell her about the picture. At a loss for words as to why he is there, he notices a “Help Wanted” sign and takes a job at Beth’s family-run dog kennel. Despite her initial mistrust, she is moved by Logan’s kindness towards her young son, and soon a romance develops between the Marine and the divorced woman.
It’s a film with positive messages about hope and healing, there are some laughs and romance, and it has a pretty good performance from Zac Efron, who obviously wants to be known for more than Disney High School Musicals. However, The Lucky One may cause the devout churchgoer to flinch with its presentation of sex outside of marriage and its one use of God’s name followed by a curse. At the press junket, I was able to interview the makers of the film, and was surprised not only by their defense of the content, but also by the fact that none of my Christian colleagues in criticism raised questions concerning material many of their readers would object to.
I am a fan of both producer Denise Di Novi (A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle) and writer Nicholas Sparks, because they are talented in their fields and fellow believers who put their faith into action. Therefore I hoped my questions would not seem confrontational. Still, I wanted to know why the profanity and why the sexuality was in a film made by Christians.
P.B.: Why is the expression “God d---” in a film you made?
Nicholas Sparks: I know that many people hate that expression, and many people will feel uncomfortable with the shower scene as well. But these are things that happen in the real world. I can speak for my own faith, and I know Denise goes to church every week as well. We call ourselves the “church people” because we are the people in Hollywood who actually go to church all the time. But there are no perfect people in the world, and what you want to do as filmmakers is point out that you don’t have to be flawless to get to Heaven. Because there is nobody flawless. These are characters that undergo a journey of growth. Both of the lead characters need a healing and they find one. And it’s our desire to show them healing in a believable way.
We do struggle with these issues, and we don’t put them in a film just to put them in there. If it’s in there, it’s there for a reason. We want to see their humanity.
Denise Di Novi: I think you hit the nail on the head when you say nobody is flawless. And just to point out, we did add the scene with the “swear jar.” That was there to get the value system of the family across.
The average person does speak that way, and it does point out the character of the person who does the profaning. We did have some takes where the actor didn’t use that expression, but the take was chosen where we felt the performance was better.
P.B.: In other words, the actor added the profanity?
D.D.: Yes. What we look for is how do we make a film that appeals to the greatest number of people with our kind of stealth message that love and faith and family and integrity are the most important values. That said, I would never allow someone in one of my movies to utter ‘Jesus Christ’ in a disrespectful way. There’s no way that will happen in one of my movies.
An interesting distinction, I thought. But being a better film reviewer than interviewer, I neglected to press the point.
I had hoped one of my colleagues would take up from there, but was disappointed when the subject changed to “What can we learn from our dogs?” Yes, there is a dog in the movie. Several dogs, none of which is central to the story. But oh well, someone else will pick up the ball. No. The next question wasn’t even a question. “I loved the little boy.” Yeah, there’s a kid in it. He is a little more central to the story than the dogs, but still far from the film’s main theme.
How do you think the Christian community will respond to the somewhat graphic sex scenes? That was my next question, alas not uttered as our time with writer and producer had drawn to a close. Director Scott Hicks (Shine, No Reservations) was next to be interviewed by our little group of eight. Unfamiliar with his spiritual beliefs, I quickly rephrased my question.
P.B. I thought the sex scenes depicted the couple’s passion without becoming overly graphic. Was that intentional? *
Scott Hicks: I wanted to find a way to express the love that these people have for each other. It could have been edited in a vulgar way and I tried to avoid that.
Here’s a maker of films who incorporates substance and wit within his films, so between more questions about dogs and movie kids, I asked him about a trend in today’s movies.
P.B. Why is there so much vulgarity in films today, especially comedies?
S.H. Nowadays filmmakers can do anything they want on the screen. The great lesson for them to learn is restraint, for the power is often in what you conceal. So, even with my choice to shoot the first love scene in the shower, when you boil it down, we don’t really show very much. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but true eroticism in the cinema is more about what you conceal than reveal. It’s more provocative. That’s something we learned from the masters of the cinema.
P.B. What are you hoping audiences will take away from this film?
S.H. I think hope, the idea that your life is not necessarily fixed by your circumstances. That’s hard for many because they are so suck in their circumstances, but hope and the idea that you can change is an important message.
In defense of my fellow press junketeers, the film shied away from religious insights, making it somewhat difficult to come up with questions for those we were expecting more from spiritually. But I am frustrated that we who examine films from a Christian perspective have, like everyone else, adjusted ourselves to the same numbing content. Same goes for Christian moviegoers. When you plunk down your $10 to see a film, you’re saying to the studios that you don’t object to the objectionable content. I guess that makes Hollywood the Lucky Ones.
As to the film, the performances carry it, with Mr. Efron connecting well with the little boy and creating an undeniable chemistry with his costar, Taylor Schilling. The production contains life-affirming messages, and with its gentle mood, we’re given a pleasant enough film. It’s just not a great film. We filmgoers weren’t that lucky.
*There are two sexual situations, and though there is no nudity, these scenes become somewhat graphic, again, staying within the PG-13 range, but coming across as provocative and very sensual.