This week brings two stories of young love, one a gentle French drama that runs soft and sweet, the other a saccharine Nicholas Sparks adaptation that overpowers with its treacly sugar. There’s lessons to be learned about how to spin standard adolescent infatuation into cinematic genius from Goodbye First Love and The Lucky One, although they are strictly of the what-not-to-do variety in the latter’s case. Both are films about loss and heartache, although only one has a happy ending— and no guessing which, it’s way too easy.
Winner: Goodbye First Love
If you’re not on the Mia Hansen-Løve bandwagon yet—and we assume that means you haven’t seen The Father of My Children—now’s the time to get on board. The writer-director’s Goodbye First Love is out today, the film a gentle study of a burgeoning adolescent relationship. As A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, “There is nothing ostentatious in this movie, and also, remarkably, nothing false, except perhaps some of the hopes of the earnest young couple at its heart.” Variety called the film an “impressive, and very French, post-New Wave gem,” while NPR found it “subtle and perceptive,” and a heartbreaking work “about emotions that linger and assert themselves against our better judgment.”
New York magazine’s David Edelstein noted that Goodbye First Love playfully satirizes the arguments you will likely be overhearing this week in downtown coffee shops over its own merits: “He calls it talky, complacent, and (the worst insult) French. She thinks it’s too deep for him. They could be talking about their own film, which suggests an incompatibility that is positively existential.” Still, he put himself in the “camp that finds Goodbye First Love harrowing.” The Los Angeles Times praised Lola Créton’s “strikingly persuasive” performance as the protagonist, and called the film “singular” and “beautifully honest and psychologically astute.” The A.V. Club handed out an A- and defended the predictable plot, arguing, “That’s only because the situation is so common in real life: the devotion that borders on suffocation, the hurt that feels like it’ll never go away, and the maturation that leads to a different set of priorities.” And Time Out New York, joining in with the other critics who found Hansen-Løve’s auteurist hand visible throughout, offered up a simple, sharp “Brava, Mia!”
Loser: The Lucky One
Zac Efron becomes Nicholas Sparks’ latest casualty today with The Lucky One, a film so trite it makes his previous one, The Lorax, look like Wall-E. Rolling Stone called the movie, about a Marine who searches down the woman whose photograph he found in Iraq and whom he credits as his guardian angel for bringing him home safely, “pretty damn insufferable” and without “a genuine emotion in it or a plausible reason to endure it.” The New York Times jumped at the opportunity to look back at the entire oeuvre of Sparks adaptations—a series of varyingly banal works with the exception of the “swooning, soaring glory” of The Notebook—tallying up the uniform deaths, illnesses, grief, heartbreak, and “atmosphere of intense spirituality carefully scrubbed of overt reference to any particular religion.”
The Miami Herald offered in paltry defense, “The most fortunate thing about The Lucky One is that despite a plot hole so big it could generate its own gravity field, it’s still not a bad movie.” Still, the unluckiest by far appear to be Efron and his costar Taylor Schilling. The Wall Street Journal called him “a hunk with a problem delivering sustained dialogue in units of more than one or two sentences.” Entertainment Weekly called Efron “sweet, handsome, and a little dull” and compared Schilling to “Taylor Swift in a perfume commercial.” And the Boston Globe got it exactly right when it reported that “Seeing Schilling and Efron fumble at each other is like watching a stick of butter and a bag of flour not turn into a cake.”