Friday, April 20, 2012

The Sparks Scale

For incentive, I promise this post will feature Gosling content.
What follows is a companion piece to Alisa's sorta-rant against Nicholas Sparks, who is quite possibly the most pretentious author on the planet with the least talent to back it up (seriously, look for an interview with this guy--he's intolerable). And I've never read word one that he's written. However, there is something about the cheese-infused, hyper-melodramatic, scenery-is-more-interesting-than-the-actors adaptations of his novels that is my catnip and kryptonite. Since, I do have some sense of perspective about the slough of cinematic despond in which I immerse myself whenever a new Sparksy comes out, and can acknowledge that some are better than others, with "better" being an entirely relatively term, I offer a crude ranking system.  Spoilers follow, though if you've seen one Sparks, you can probably already guess that a major character will take a dirt nap before the two hours are through.

So, in honor of this weekend's premiere of The Lucky One (which yes, I'll totally be seeing tomorrow), I give you:

The Sparks Scale

Hideously Repellant: The Last Song

It should be clear from the poster why this one blows.

First of all, it stars Miley Cyrus. I'll give you a moment to process that. It. Stars. MILEY CYRUS. Like, in the sense that she "acts" in it, and naturally the soundtrack is filled with her stupid songs. Not only that, but the plot itself (which was "developed alongside" the film, as all good novels are) gives us all the absolute worst of Sparks cliches: we've got a terminal disease, we've got family strife, and we've got a heavy-handed Christian allegory. And it has the unmitigated gall to make national treasure Greg Kinnear show up every day and read his lines opposite, again I emphasize, MILEY CYRUS. The only saving grace is the presence of Liam "Gale" Hemsworth, but since they make him unnaturally obsessed with a lame loggerhead turtle subplot, even that brief bright spark is snuffed by crap.

Horrendously Insulting: Message in a Bottle

Starting to notice a trend in the posters?

The problem with this one (well, its problems are legion, but the one I'll focus on here) is the presence of Paul Newman. Paul mothereffing Newman. The film wants us to believe that the King of Cool somehow spawned a whiny, petulant, emotionally stunted Kevin Costner, and then didn't immediately drown him. Apparently, he wanted to leave that to Nicholas Sparks, who first makes us sit through a romance with Robin Wright (Penn) that is based on and almost undone by a deception so clumsy and unnecessary it feels ripped from the pages of The Babysitters Club.

Ridiculously Contrived: Nights at Rodanthe, Dear John
Also, there's a Franco factor to consider.

Though these two are quite different (one being firmly ensconced in the "middle-aged people get it on" genre, the other a solid entry in the "war is hell . . . on a relationship" category), they both rely on untimely death as a convenient mors ex machina to resolve pesky plot details. Nights at Rodanthe also totally plays the "girls love horses" card to suggest that Richard Gere's ghost is magic. But one must tip his hat to Dear John, for actually featuring a dying cancer patient articulating relief and excitement about his impending demise, because it means his wife will finally be able to bang Channing Tatum guilt-free. You cannot make this shit up. Unless you're Nicholas Sparks. 

Delightfully Cheesy: A Walk to Remember
She looks like the picture of health, doesn't she?
Now we're approaching the positive side of the scale. This classic doomed teen romance was my gateway drug to Sparksy. And I can never thank my dealer enough. All the usual plot devices are there--a wasting disease that makes no one look ugly, shilling for conservative values--but there are also the joys of the worst high school musical ever performed, in order to feature the talents of one Mandy Moore, Shane West doing his best Sir Lancelot impression to save his lady's honor from the indignity of appearing in the worst photo-shopped flyer ever created, and lots of high school angst. Always worth a watch when it appears on Lifetime. Which is bi-monthly.

Reasonably Acceptable: The Notebook
Because this happens.

 Well, half of it, anyway. This is the Sparks adaptation that people more emotionally stable than I might actually own without embarrassment. This exception is mainly due to the presence of two talented and extraordinarily good looking actors when they were still willing to do anything for work (Rachel McAdams and Mr. Ryan Gosling), who also happen to have such mad chemistry that they basically light the rest of the crap movie on fire. The other half makes a typical Sparks argument that love can cure Alzheimer's Disease, which would have placed this film squarely in the "Horrendously Insulting" category, but Ryan Gosling. And "the kiss." And "I wrote you every day for a year!" Do what I do--fast forward the old people parts, and bask in the glow of a bearded Gosling wrapped only in a blanket, eaten up by torment and bitter rage.

Only tomorrow will tell where The Lucky One will fall in the Sparks Scale (though my money's on Contrived).  

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