Okay, I’ll admit I got choked up at some scenes in the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, “The Choice,” and the story took turns I didn’t expect it to. But saying “The Choice” is a better cinematic version of Sparks’ work than “Safe Haven” is the equivalent of saying “Cannonball Run” is better than “Cannonball Run II.” In the end that is faint praise of the very, very faint kind. While the Sparks faithful may find much to enjoy about “The Choice,” it is the usual romantic nonsense which will have you scratching your head more often than not.
The movie stars Benjamin Walker of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer” fame as Travis Parker, a perennial ladies’ man who works at his dad’s veterinarian office and yet has all the time in the world to travel around the North Carolina shore on his boat. How this guy makes a living is beyond me as the 40-hour work week doesn’t seem to apply to him. While all his friends have a significant other in their lives, Travis believes having one will seriously cramp his lifestyle for no good reason. But even his sister is quick to inform him how he is in real trouble when a new girl arrives in town.
Next thing you know, we get introduced to medical student Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) who has just moved into a small house right next to Travis’, and she becomes incensed when he is sitting outside and blasting Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” on his stereo. These two do not get off to a great start, and Gabby finds herself repelled by Travis’ presence whenever she ends up in the same place as him. But in truth they are having a Han Solo/Princess Leia relationship in which they look like they can’t stand each other, but underneath they are fighting a strong attraction which cannot be denied. Plus, it reminds me of a great dialogue exchange between Iris and Gilbert in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes:”
“You’re the most contemptible person I’ve ever met in all my life!”
“Confidentially, I think you’re a bit of a stinker, too.”
Please note: those two characters ended up falling for each other.
While their eventual coming together is no surprise, it is a stunner to see just how quickly Gabby forgets about her long term boyfriend. He’s a doctor named Ryan McCarthy (played by former Superman Tom Welling) who’s a genuinely good man with a great future ahead of him, and Gabby knows he is someone she can depend on. But when Travis enters her life, she finds an excitement unlike any she has previously experienced. Still, it is astonishing how one person can easily forget their significant other in what seems like a heartbeat. Then again, anything’s possible.
From there, “The Choice” goes on a journey which is not as predictable as its poster might suggest, and it reaches a point where you realize why the movie has the title it does. It’s a look at some of the hardest choices one has to make in a relationship, but it ends up being assigned to one character in particular. Travis has to consider his options while Gabby doesn’t have much of a say, and the reasons for this will become clear to you if you decide to subject yourself to what is yet another emotionally manipulative romantic movie.
Somehow it seems ridiculous the choice this movie’s title refers to is up to one person and not others. If more characters were involved, then “The Choice” might have been more interesting than it ended up being, but this is a romantic movie done by the numbers and which serves to play with your emotions rather than be honest with you about the human condition.
The movie’s ending is one which undoubtedly please audiences, but it is also a largely unrealistic one and bound to have many rolling their eyes in severe disbelief. I won’t spoil it for you here, but I found it impossible to see this as anything other than an overblown fantasy. Romantic movies work best when they deal with real people in situations we can relate to, but this one does not.
If there is one thing “The Choice” has going for it, it’s how it makes North Carolina look like the most beautiful place to take a summer vacation at. North Carolina is to Nicholas Sparks as Maine is to Stephen King, and it’s hard to think of many other movies where this state looks as beautiful as it does here. Perhaps Sparks can write a novel about the history of North Carolina and someone can make a movie out of it worth watching. Like I said, anything is possible.
Walker and Palmer do have a palpable chemistry and Palmer, who is Australian, does pull off a very impressive American accent, but this is just another romantic movie which reminds me why I tend to avoid them on a regular basis. Some directors love to play their audiences like a piano, but they should be forbidden to do so when it comes to motion pictures like these.
You want a romantic movie worth watching? Try “When Harry Met Sally,” Say Anything,” “Obvious Child” or “What If” instead because those at least engage the viewer in an honest way. “The Choice” is just another one that plays by a rulebook which should have been obliterated a long time ago. Like many Sparks adaptations before it, this one can’t hold a candle to “The Notebook.”
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016
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