The Choice (2016)

Let your heart decide.

Another Valentine’s Day, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation (it’s hard to believe there have been eleven of these tearjerkers made, starting with Message in a Bottle back in 1999)! To put it in perspective, I walked into The Choice with very low expectations, given the fact that these woozy Mills & Boon romantic dramas aren’t really targeted towards someone like myself (they’re tailor made for Sparks’ already devoted fanbase). Even so, I still walked out of The Choice disappointed (that’s saying something), regretting my ‘choice’ to drive all the way into the city for this preview screening (I should have gone for a coffee instead).

To be fair, The Choice isn’t the sappiest nor the crappiest Sparks feature around; however it’s certainly the dullest and most derivative — it essentially feels as though filmmakers sped-read through a list of Sparks ‘do’s and don’ts,’ threw this lazy flounder together, then cashed in a hefty paycheck. For instance, most Sparks aficionados know that his stories tend to be set in the Mid-South, in a small town or somewhere near the ocean. The Choice manages to combine all three. Set in coastal, rural North Carolina, The Choice opens with our saccharine narrator Travis Parker (Benjamin Walker) telling us that life is all about decisions and choices (you know, just in case we hadn’t already picked this up during the course of our lives). After this brief (yet eye rolling) prologue, we rewind the clock back seven years and that’s when our story begins.

'You light up my life.'
‘You light up my life.’

Here we meet a womanizing Travis Parker, a veterinarian who owns a lake house and rescued a dog once. As luck would have it, Travis is destined to fall in love with his new next-door neighbor, who surprise, surprise, turns out to be a bustling blonde bombshell. Enter Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer), a final-year medical intern who just so happens to be (inconveniently) engaged to the most eligible bachelor in town, Doctor Ryan McCarthy (Tom Welling). Although Gabby pretends to be annoyed about Travis’ loud music, it’s their dogs that ultimately bring this pair together (there’s nothing the least bit heart-warming about this courtship unless you’re a dog person or into bestiality). From there on in, the movie tracks the evolution of this schmaltzy love affair that’s tested by a couple of predictable twists and turns (note, whenever you see heavy rain in a Sparks film it normally means that one of our protagonists will soon find themselves in the ‘sick bay’ or in a horizontal phone booth, pushing up the daisies). Be that as it may, the film asks the burning question: how far would you go to keep the hope of love alive? Riveting stuff here, folks!

There’s no spark (pun intended) or chemistry between leads Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), (who’s in serious need of a haircut here) and the perky Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies (2013); the former being more creepy than charming and the latter displaying little appeal other than her physical assets — the fact that audiences can’t warm to either of our love birds drags this wailer down further. If you’re looking for a better story hidden within this tissue-thin dribble, it’s probably how actors such as Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton (2007), Maggie Grace, Taken (2008), and Alexandra Daddario, San Andreas (2015), were conned into accepting such cookie cutter material. Even so, Daddario’s Monica is the nicest, most understanding ‘other woman’ I’ve seen in a long while, the beautiful Maggie Grace seems bored stiff playing Travis’ sister Steph (at least she’s not being ‘taken’) while Tom Wilkinson looks as though he’s constantly searching for the nearest exit as widower/genial pastor/veterinarian and Travis’ love sick dad, Shep. Last but not least, actor Tom Welling shows up in a minor role as Gabby’s beefed up fiancé Dr. Ryan McCarthy, even if the Smallville (2001) star appears as though he’s somewhat disappointed in his own choices post 2011, after his lengthy television stint as Superman/Clark Kent finished up.

'What's cooking?'
‘What’s cooking?’

Fortunately, director Ross Katz, Adult Beginners (2014), does the best he can to elevate this romantic tragedy, imbuing the screen with great shots of gorgeous landscapes, glistening water, dreamy sunsets and twinkling stars while the Southern climate guarantees that Travis will need to do some topless engine repair at some point. For fans of the author’s prolific fluff, I suppose this might just be enough! Everyone else should consider their multiplex choices carefully this Valentine’s Day. If you ask me, I’d say skip this turkey and choose Deadpool (2016) instead.

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Choice is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia