Somewhere in a picturesque coastal town in the Carolinas lives a thriving community of good-looking guys with thick Southern drawls. Day in and day out, they use their hunky handyman capabilities and unconditional love of furry animals to woo incredibly attractive women. Or, at least that’s what all Nicholas Sparks novel-turned feature films want theirfans to think. Almost always set in the South and containing the classic boy-meets-girl love affair, each new novel and its subsequent adaptation for the silver screen churned out by the revered romance writer seems to be nothing but a slightly reconfigured version of its predecessor.
Despite the evident plot consistencies from one mushy romance movie to the next, the films bring throngs of sentimental viewers flooding theaters with every Sparks release. Containing all of the aforementioned elements of the novelist’s typical drama-laden love stories in its premise, The Choice is perhaps the best example of the quintessential Sparks-inspired film.
That said, The Choice is also one of the worst movies to come out of Hollywood in a very long while.
A literal girl-next-door type, Gabby encounters her noisy neighbor when she angrily marches the approximate six yards separating her front porch fromTravis’. She demands he turns the radio down which, she adds triumphantly, also reveals his “terrible taste in music, by the way.” The two engage in a lackluster fight of flirty foolishness. They take turns lobbing minor insults at each other as Travis tries unsuccessfully (surprise!) to seduce Gabby. After approximately three minutes of unnecessary arguments and uninspired dialogue—for instance, Gabby says four variations of the line “Oh, wow! You are SO full of yourself!” in this one scene— Gabby spins on her heel in a huffy, I-sure-showed-him kind of way. Of course, she is already smitten.
Utterly dull and decidedly underwhelming, the movie plays out in an even more monotonous manner than one would expect. From the minute Travis (played by Benjamin Walker) first flashes his carefree, crooked smile at the overly studious Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer), the audience knows that there is absolutely no way that the two will not eventually end up together, living happily ever after in a conflict-free courtship.
Anticipating the mind-numbing predictability and reckless overuse of stock scenes in a Sparks-based movie is automatic and almost integral to the viewing experience. Moviegoers paying for a ticket to a Sparks flick enter the theater having already moved past the realization that there will likely be no “will they or won’t they” plot twist to keep them on the edge of their seats. They know not to hope for any unexpected event to drop their jaws and keep them engrossed in scintillating suspense. The film, however, lacks any divisive or convincing conflict between the two main characters that might potentially pose a problem for their inevitably perfect relationship.
Another disappointing aspect to add to the film’s ever-growing laundry list of missteps is the actors’ lack of onscreen chemistry. Despite their supposed undying romance being the story’s central conflict, lovebirds Gabby and Tom just don’t seem that into each other. Tom Welling’s flat performance as estranged boyfriend Ryan could have been played better by a cardboard cutout. Tom Wilkinson as Dr. Shep is difficult to watch, as the bumbling awkwardness around his lady friend is a perfect example of overacting. The characters are vapid, and their interactions merely cringeworthy. Snippets of the script’s dialogue include sentiments like “There you go, bothering me again,” “I just can’t marry him!,” and an obligatory “Let’s just stay here forever” thrown in for good measure.
Simply stated, the one hour and 51-minute film is approximately one hour and 49 minutes too long. Instead of a high-budget film adaptation of the novel, a two-minute summary would suffice. Perhaps better suited as a bedtime story—one that drags on long enough and contains few to no engrossing plot points—the film is a perfect remedy for insomnia.
It’s a time-honored formula: smooth-talking boy meets strong-willed and stubborn girl who wants none of his smug and intoxicating macho charm. The cruel universe, always up for a good laugh, places them directly in each others’ paths until the two have no choice but to fall hopelessly in love with one another. Finally, a series of obstacles and sticky situations thwart their grand plans of living in a nauseating state of eternal love and happiness that ultimately begs the audience to consider an age old-question: how far will the heart go in the face of true love?
Instead, the question that The Choice raises is this: how far will film critics go to avoid the next Sparks film?
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