The Nicholas Sparks Quotient: How Sparksian Is The Lucky One?

There are a number of givens when one is confronted with a Nicholas Sparks story, the surest thing being that you will cry. Oh yes, you will weep. That is, if you're one of the many out there predisposed to falling under the spell of Sparks's carefully crafted, timeworn magic formula of love, tears, and tragedy. But how does this week's Zac Efron-starring The Lucky One measure up to its predecessors in terms of The Sparks Quotient?

It's a fail-proof alchemy that has turned the author's bestselling weepies into hits since 1999's Message in a Bottle. Let's break it down into the most common unifying elements of a Sparks saga:

  • Man with emotional baggage meets plucky woman
  • They come from different worlds
  • It's set in the Carolinas
  • Stars a teen idol making their career transition (extra point if they sing a schmaltzy ballad)
  • Features a water-related love scene
  • A secret/miscommunication gets in the way of love
  • Hand-written notes/letters are involved
  • Guy makes grand gesture of love
  • Tear-jerking last act tragedy strikes
  • Makes tons of money
  • --

    Spoilers follow, obviously.

    Message in a Bottle (1999)
    Plot:Robin Wright falls for Kevin Costner after finding love letters he wrote to his dead wife.

    Emo guy/plucky gal: +1 [Grieving widower/intrepid news researcher]
    Different worlds: +1 [She's from Chicago, he's a quiet coastal boat enthusiast]
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star/ballad: 0
    Watery love scene: +1 [Makin' love while it pours outside - check!]
    Secrets: +1 [Like, majorly -- they break up because she hid her knowledge of his letters.]
    Notes/letters: +1 [See title.]
    Grand gesture: 0
    Tragedy: +1 [He dies. Boating accident.]
    $$$: +1 [#1 movie on Valentine's Day weekend '99, bitches]

    Sparks Quotient: 8


    A Walk to Remember (2002)
    Plot: Popular teen (Shane West) falls for a homely preacher's daughter (Mandy Moore) despite her gross lowest-rung social status.

    Emo guy/plucky gal: +1 [Cool kid Landon wrestles with his growing feelings for Jamie even as she dares to wear ugly sweaters and make him promise he won't fall in love with her.]
    Different worlds: +1
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star/ballad: +2 [Pop singer Mandy Moore's previous credits: The Princess Diaries and those Neutrogena commercials. And Who can forget Moore's stirring rendition of "Only Hope," the song Jamie performs in the school play that literally makes Landon's eyes pop out of their sockets?]
    Watery love scene: 0
    Secrets: +1/2 [Mixed signals throw a few wrenches into Landon and Jamie's romance as he struggles to come to terms with his willingness to be seen in public with her.]
    Notes/letters: +1 [Jamie's To-Do list; see: Tragedy]
    Grand gesture: +1 [Um, like the ENTIRE MOVIE. It's the ultimate fantasy in which a guy will literally fulfill every wish you ever had, from building a homemade telescope on your balcony to proposing marriage at the age of 17.]
    Tragedy: +1 [She dies. Leukemia.]
    $$$: 0 [A modest $41M domestic take, but the lowest grossing Sparks movie to date.]

    Sparks Quotient: 8 1/2 -- The Sparks is strong in this one.


    The Notebook (2004)
    Plot: 1940s townie (Ryan Gosling) falls for rich heiress (Rachel McAdams) but her family and his crap prospects keep them apart.

    Emo guy/plucky gal: +1
    Different worlds: +1
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star: +1 [Ryan Gosling had already starred in films like The Believer and Murder By Numbers... but he had been on The Mickey Mouse Club. And it established his heartthrob potential.]
    Watery love scene:: +1 [Only the Best. Rain kiss. Ever.]
    Notes/letters: +1 [See above]
    Grand gesture: +1 [Going nuts, growing a sadness beard, restoring a plantation house just for her]
    Tragedy: +1 [Gena Rowlands has Alzheimer's! *sob*]
    $$$: +1

    Sparks Quotient: 10 -- The Sparksiest of them all.


    Nights in Rodanthe (2008)
    Plot: Jilted single mother (Diane Lane) falls for brooding surgeon (Richard Gere) while trapped at a bed-and-breakfast. He's just gotta do this one thing in South America...

    Emo guy/plucky gal: +1/2 [Honestly, they're both damaged. We'll call it even.]
    Different worlds: 0
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star: 0
    Watery love scene: +1 [Hurricane make-out!]
    Secrets: +1 [His guilt over a dead patient]
    Notes/letters: +1
    Grand gesture: 0
    Tragedy: +1 [He dies. IN A MUDSLIDE.]
    $$$: 0

    Sparks Quotient: 5 1/2


    Dear John (2010)
    Plot: Army soldier (Channing Tatum) falls for coed (Amanda Seyfried), love letters can't quite sustain long distance relationship during deployment.

    Emo guy/plucky gal: +1 [He has daddy issues. She has giant kewpie doll eyes.]
    Different worlds: +1
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star/ballad: +1/2 [Seyfried sings on the soundtrack ballad "Little House"]
    Watery love scene:: +1 [Um. YES.]
    Secrets: +1 [Yeah, like the fact that she married the kid from E.T. while John was away.]
    Notes/letters: +1 [Lots of them, but they do no good.]
    Grand gesture: +1 [He sells his dad's prized coin collection to pay for her sick husband's medical bills.]
    Tragedy: +1 [Her sick husband dies from cancer.]
    $$$: +1 [#1 at the box office. Take that, Avatar!]

    Sparks Quotient: 9 1/2


    The Last Song (2010)
    Plot: Troubled city teen (Miley Cyrus) is shipped off to live with her dad, where she acts out until a local hottie's love (and endangered turtles) help her grow the hell up.

    Emo guy/plucky gal: 0 [All of the issues are hers, I swear.]
    Different worlds: +1
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star/ballad: +1 [Ronnie finishes writing her father's song and performs it in church and stuff.]
    Watery love scene: +1/2 [A mid-montage ocean frolic. Counts.]
    Secrets: +1/2 [Weakest secret ever about a church fire drives a wedge between Ronnie and her hunky boyfriend.]
    Notes/letters: +1/2 [Does sheet music count?]
    Grand gesture: 0
    Tragedy: +1 [Daddy Greg Kinnear dies. Cancer.]
    $$$: +1

    Sparks Quotient: 6 1/2


    The Lucky One (2012) SPOILER WARNING
    Plot: U.S. Marine (Zac Efron) returns from Iraq to find the woman whose picture serendipitously saved him from an explosion, he falls for her.

    Emo guy/plucky gal: +1 [He's a tortured soldier who can't quite tell her why he came to town; she's a single mom.]
    Different worlds: 0
    Southern setting: +1
    Teen idol star: +1 [Efron's first bona fide love scene, unless you count that one time he did it with a ghost.]
    Watery love scene: +1 [Nothin' like sweet, sweet outdoor shower love.]
    Secrets: +1 [If not for his big "secret," this movie could be over in one panty-dropping Efron wink.]
    Notes/letters: +1/2 [Half a point for The Photograph of Destiny]
    Grand gesture: +1 [Hmm, does walking across the country by foot just to stalk a random fantasy woman who you then come to work for under false pretenses so you can be near her count?]
    Tragedy: +1 [Yep, someone dies. I'll leave that juicy bit for you to discover.]
    $$$: TBA

    Sparks Quotient: 7 1/2

    Sparks fans, it looks like you're in for a treat! The Lucky One features most of the Sparksian signposts your tear ducts have been waiting for. Bring Kleenex! For more, read Movieline's review.


    • Alberto says:

      Hmmm, aren't the character's in Sparks novels quite propense to neumonia or what? Maybe that's behind all the tragedies.

    • vulpes82 says:

      Someone writing a letter in the rain while dying of cancer to save the life of his/her beloved's pet dog would be the most Sparksian of them all.

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    • Alexis says:

      What Ohwillike is saying has not to do with languages, but with education. School children in China are taught to read classical Chinese. School children in the Arab countries are taught to read the language of the Quran. School children in England where until quite recently taught to read Latin. None of this says anything about the archaism or conservatism of the respective vernaculars.