‘An attempt to make something out of virtually nothing’ could be an alternate tagline for The Choice, the latest in a long line of Nicholas Sparks romantic adaptations. Helmed by producer-turned-director Ross Katz (Adult Beginners) and adapted by Bryan Sipe (Demolition), The Choice takes the typical Sparks plot and inserts into it swollen romantic clichés and unpolished themes. The story feels a lot like a rough draft, but regardless, there is a certain genuine quality to the acting and filmmaking that make The Choice charming and heartfelt despite several of its faults.
The story follows a young man and woman, Travis and Gabby, who find themselves quite often at odds as new neighbors. This tension turns to attraction and the two find themselves changing their plans and preconceived notions of love to carry out their romance. The remaining plot follows the path of their relationship and years of milestones (marriage, multiple children, and a happy family life) up until the point when Gabby suffers a terrible accident and ends up in a coma, forcing Travis to make the ultimate life and death “choice” for the future of their story.
In terms of the Nicholas Sparks romance formula, this one hits every criterion on the nose. Does the story feature a young male-female relationship? Check. Is there some kind of small obstacle to them falling in love? Check – in the form of their general dislike for each other partnered with her extenuating romantic entanglements. Does a serious, life-threatening tragedy occur? Check! Is it in North Carolina? Check – and it makes for a seriously beautiful backdrop. Finally, is the romance epic in scale? Most definitely check – their story lasts for seven years and it is at least heavily suggested that their love transcends modern medicine. It is not this equation that ultimately brings the film down (it rather gives much needed support), however, but instead the weak story and characters surrounding it. The plot is constructed around the larger theme of making life-changing choices, but the script never fully lives up to this lofty notion and ironically hinges on Travis’ indecision at the film’s climax.
What The Choice does have going for it is two strong lead actors – Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) in his breakout leading man debut and Australian actress Teresa Palmer (Take Me Home Tonight) – who both anchor the story and ground it in their equally solid and emotionally satisfying performances. It is clear that both Walker and Palmer attempted to dig deep into their roles and make magic with what little there was on the page. Palmer makes Gabby exceedingly vibrant and charming despite her quarrelsome demeanor, while Walker lends a genuine emotional depth to his otherwise carefree playboy character, and the pair are able to manifest an electric and somewhat realistic chemistry together (despite the overly emphasized aspect that she “bothers” him so very much and he loves her for it). The redeeming qualities of Travis, Gabby, and their romance come straight from the actors’ performances as the script does not lend much meat to their roles. Left even further in the dust are the film’s secondary characters (played by Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, and Tom Welling) who have almost nothing to work with themselves. Veteran actor Tom Wilkinson (Selma) even makes an appearance as Travis’ father, doing what he can to tie their story arcs together, but to no real avail.
In terms of the romance, – the reason that most audiences members are going to make the effort to see this film – its quality experiences both highs and lows. The most appealing aspect takes form in the parts that the movie builds up as their life or relationship defining choices, which provide moments that are the most explosive in terms of romance, plot, and character. These dramatic scenes work to bring visual and verbal structure to the hefty ideas surrounding the weight of decision-making, however, while the romance finds some focus and poignancy in these scenes, the choices that are made don’t ever feel all that impactful or consequential on the story moving forward. Even the final and most life-defining choice put before Travis near the film’s end is severely anti-climactic.
Where the romance seems to most fall short is in its overblown clichés. Travis’ side of the relationship is largely founded on the fact that Gabby bothers him and always puts up a fight – these “fights” are almost always fabricated as a ridiculous form of flirtation. Gabby, on the other hand, confuses his heavy and obvious flirting (with nearly unbelievable dimness) for smugness and arrogance, never missing an opportunity to chastise him for it. However, once their characters move past these romantic trivialities, their relationship is able to bloom onscreen in a naturally heartfelt manner. Yes, the romance gets sappier and sappier as it moves along, but sappy is not always the worst thing and can be one of the most indulgently satisfying elements of a good love story. The Choice, I believe, succeeds on that level.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
For romance aficionados and Sparks fans out there, this film likely deserves a watch. It has a great deal of commendable charm and swoon-worthy moments carried out by two exceptional actors. There is no doubt in my mind that if Walker and Palmer had a better script at their disposal, they would have left behind something truly special on a similar par with what Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams were able to accomplish in The Notebook. Unfortunately, the actors are not given that chance, and instead are forced to try and make lemonade out of lemons in what will likely go down as one of Spark’s more lazy plots largely dependent on its formula.