Just the other day, I was wondering where Rachel McAdams had disappeared to. Don't ask me why, it just came to me. The last film I recall seeing her in was The Family Stone, but that was back in 2005. Where did she go? She just fell off the map. Come to think about it, it is probably for the best; with her string of films including The Notebook, Red Eye, and Wedding Crashers, she was beginning to blow up. Better to back off a bit for fear of burning out.
In any case, she is back in The Lucky Ones and just began shooting a new Sherlock Holmes film. With these and two others in post-production, it seems safe to say that she is back and ready to make an impression. It doesn't hurt that The Lucky Ones is a good film.
The Lucky Ones, at its heart, is a road film. Three strangers are thrown together, bonded by similar circumstances, and forced to travel together. Along the way, the trio sheds the stranger tag and becomes an oddly dysfunctional family, brought together as friends by their their newly shared experience. It can be surprising what can happen when you are forced to be in close proximity with others for an extended period of time.
Fred Cheaver (Tim Robbins), a lifelong military man, is on his way home, for good. Colee Dunn (Rachel McAdams) was shot in the leg and has thirty days of leave, during which she plans on returning a guitar to the family of a friend killed in action. TK Poole (Michael Pena) was caught in the privates by a piece of shrapnel and, like Colee, has thirty days of leave to recuperate. These three meet on the flight from the Middle East to New York en route to their respective final destinations.
Of course, things do not go the way they are planned. Once in New York, they discover that all of the connecting flights have been canceled due to a power outage. The decision is made to split a rental. Off they go, beginning a journey that will have long lasting and meaningful effects on all three.
In many road films the journey and destination are the point. That is not the case here. The point here is the way the characters draw together, revealing themselves in ways that surprise even themselves. They are all veterans of the war in Iraq and this film certainly wants to be seen as a film related to the war, but it is not about the war; it does not even take a stand on the war. The war serves as a backdrop that colors their collective experiences and joins them together. For the war, against the war — it makes no difference.
Now, the structure and much of what they experience is nothing new to the road movie experience. Actually, nothing feels particularly new here. Despite that, the film still feels fresh, and you want to know why? The performances.
Rachel McAdams is clearly the brightest spot. This is a role like unlike any she has done before. She is not the love interest, or the girlfriend, and this is definitely not The Hot Chick. Her character, Colee, is naive, but not stupid; she is spunky, vulnerable, tough, and sensitive all at the same time. This is a role that shows her growth as an actress and brings promise to her career.
Michael Pena and Tim Robbins are not to be forgotten. Pena has a youthful exuberance and a severe preoccupation with his injury, not that I blame him. Robbins is a fatherly figure facing down the barrel of unfathomable, for him, family issues. Together with McAdams, they deliver a story that may be implausible on the surface, but contains a genuine reality within and leads the viewer on a pleasant journey filled with laughs and sadness.
Bottom line. Not quite what I expected, but ultimately satisfying. This is a film that takes its time to get where it is going and every minute is worth the trip. You will likely see the end coming, but this will not dampen your enjoyment of the journey.