The Choice marks the 11th film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, a prolific filmography that began with the Kevin Costner/Robin Wright weeper Message in a Bottle (1999) and peaked with The Notebook (2004; Noah and Allie forever!). As far as non-Sparksian movies go, “his” latest offering is melodramatic, corny and wholly predictable. But if we were to measure The Choice on a scale which is only used to measure other Sparks films, The Choice is par for the course, pandering as ever to a built-in audience. A more-than-gushy romance, it remains watchable only because, like any other piece of Sparks-ian fare, it features two leads who project a believable, committed chemistry.
Although the film’s directed by Ross Katz (Adult Beginners) and written by Bryan Sipe, who also wrote the upcoming Demolition with Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s Sparks’ imprint that’s most palpable. The author, also one of the film’s producers, is at this point just a crowd-pleasing, maudlin mill, churning out any number of stories with any number of similarities between entries. As such, The Choice begins with an antiseptic world that’s mostly populated by Abercrombie & Fitch models who live in a picturesque town where white picket fences and Instagrammable sunsets abound. Rain only serves to help usher in romantic plot points.
Sparks sets the decade-long love story in his home state of North Carolina, where Travis (Benjamin Walker) is a veterinarian working in practice with his widower dad (Tom Wilkinson). Travis seems happy playing the field, riding around in his boat and barbecuing with friends—until he meets his plucky next-door neighbor, Gabby (Teresa Palmer). They’re opposites, and if you didn’t get that immediately through the verbal sparring, the music cues at the meet-cute reinforce their personalities as he blasts Guster and she plays Bach’s Cello Suites while studying for her med school boards. Also, they’re forced to deal with each other because of the impending birth of puppies by Gabby’s dog, Molly. (Nope—that’s what happens.)
As in The Notebook, the female lead has a serious boyfriend Ryan (Tom Welling), a rich doctor from the other side of town, and Travis has Monica, an on/off girlfriend, but neither of those relationships refer to “the choice” in the film’s title. Both Ryan and Monica step aside rather easily, and there’s no real or messy ramifications to cheating in Sparks’ world—because LOVE. Without spoiling the plot, Gabby’s and Travis’s decade-long relationship is tested in ways that only God or some higher power can fix. It’s a head scratching decision by the filmmakers, however, to give away “the choice” within the first five minutes, as one of the characters arrives at the hospital with flowers for a recurring visit.
Katz does an adequate job with the film’s direction, including a fair amount of pristine beach shots and sunsets/sunrises over the Carolina coast. Meanwhile, Walker, who oozes Travis’s good ol’ Southern boy charm, and Palmer, who plays a smart and feisty Gabby, keep The Choice grounded despite the startlingly soap opera-ish twists the couple faces. Other characters, especially Travis’s friends, are one-dimensional and inconsequential, existing only to show that Travis can be loyal to the core and to comment on his prowess with the ladies (although we really only see Monica before Gabby). Other characters fare a little better, especially Maggie Grace as Travis’s omniscient sister. Grace has an easy-going charm in front of the camera, though her character mainly serves as Travis’s foil. The reliable Wilkinson manages to rise above the pabulum, too, though he’s miscast here as a full-time vet and part-time Southern preacher.
And yet, none of this matters. There are ten films to come before, and there will most likely be ten films to come. Nothing will stop the Sparks.
Director: Ross Katz
Writers: Bryan Sipe, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, Brett Rice, and Tom Wilkinson
Release Date: February 5, 2016
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.