The Lucky Ones is one of the good road movies. Sure, you know pretty much exactly how it’s going to end as soon as you’re introduced to its characters, but it’s sweet and heartfelt nonetheless. Formulaic and has a bunch of problems due to its adherence to formula, of course, but that doesn’t stop it from having a moderate emotional impact on a viewer, as well as giving anyone watching it a pretty fun time. While the three lead characters are all Iraq war veterans, they have a pretty good sense of humor which keeps things enjoyable for all, despite all their problems.
The basic idea is this: The three soldiers return home with a plan and a dream, and soon find out that not is all as it was and should be. Their first obstacle is a power outage, causing the delay of planes at the airport. They decide to rent a car together, having met earlier while flying back to America. We have Fred Cheaver (Tim Robbins), a veteran of many years who just wants to see his wife and son; Colee (Rachel McAdams), who got shot in the leg and had her boyfriend die in her arms, who just wants to return his guitar to his family; and there’s T.K. (Michael Peña), who was struck by a piece of shrapnel in a very sensitive area, causing it to no longer work. He hopes to go to Vegas and hire someone to “fix” it.
There are problems with all of these plans. Cheaver’s wife wants a divorce and his son needs $20,000 in 3 weeks or he loses his spot at Stanford. Colee is living in a dream world, having never met her boyfriend’s parents but assuming that they’ll love her and take her in as their own. T.K. has some sort of past history with something, and also has an odd relationship with his fiancée. You’ll find it all out as the film moves along.
As we progress from state to state, the tensions flare, the problems get larger, and before long, it seems as if nobody will ever live happily ever after. You understand at this point that this is how road movies work; the speed bumps presented allow for the character growth which will hopefully allow these people to overcome their problems.
You know how road movies work, or if you don’t, you will by the end of this one. All of the notes that are required are hit, and all of the tropes are used. If you’re looking for a film with a unique plot, The Lucky Ones isn’t it. However, if you’re looking for a movie with strong characters portrayed by good actors, then you might just like this one. These characters and performances are so strong that you forget the film’s flaws for the majority of its running time.
These are layered, deep characters, all of whom have many things they have to worry about. By the end of the film, you hope that everything will work out because you care about them. They feel real, and you want them to succeed because they don’t feel like caricatures; they’re real human beings. The writing is sharp and doesn’t often make them speak in clichés, and the actors are all very good, which makes the characters feel natural. You get sucked in by the performances and forget the film’s problems until it concludes.
However, after it’s over, you start to think it over and realize it’s nothing particularly special. The plot is all formula, it’s too long (just under two hours), many of the scenes don’t relate to the plot at all and appear just as filler and to give us a bizarre look at America and its reaction to soldiers, and much of the comedy falls flat. During the film, I didn’t care. It’s only looking back on it that I feel this way, and I certainly don’t hope to dissuade anyone from seeing it due to these issues. It overcomes them, but you might be left with a somewhat bad taste in your mouth if you think about it for too long afterward.
Many contrivances and too-unlikely-to-just-be-coincidences are abound, but I was okay with them while watching The Lucky Ones. You make a note of how silly these situations are, but you pass it off as just that: Silly situations. They’re harmless and end up telling a good story, so why bother complaining about them? Because you’re a cynic, that’s why. And you know what we do with cynics ’round these here parts? Nothing. That’s what.
I liked seeing how everyone in America reacted to these soldiers, though. Perhaps the funniest moments came when our war heroes would make a stop in a place and get treated a different way from the last one. If director Neil Burger wanted to give us a portrait of different areas of America, then he did a pretty good job of that. It’s a little touch, sure, but it’s an important one that elevates The Lucky Ones above a generic road movie.
In the end, The Lucky Ones is definitely worth the time it takes to watch. It isn’t anything special, really, but it feels like it is in the moment. After it ends, you might start to think back on the experience and realize its problems, but as you’re enjoying it, you’re really enjoying it. It takes three people, puts them in a car and gives them a lot of problems to deal with. Formulaic, sure, but it makes a good movie here, in large part because it provides a nice perspective on America, and because of the strong performances by the lead actors.