×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Choice’

With:
Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Welling, Jesse C. Boyd, Brad James, Noree Victoria.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3797868/

“Now pay attention, because I’m about to tell you the secret of life.” These would be hard opening lines for any film to live up to, but when spoken at the beginning of “The Choice” — the latest, and quite possibly worst, tissue-thin weepie to issue forth from the Nicholas Sparks page-to-screen assembly line— the gulf between what’s promised and what’s delivered is wide enough to be spotted from space. Beginning as a merely mediocre retread of standard Sparksian tropes, veering off into self-parody around the hour-mark, and finally concluding with one of the most brazenly cynical climaxes recently committed to film, “The Choice” presents audiences with a fairly easy decision at the multiplex.

In spite of his status as a critical punching bag, Sparks is usually a successful storyteller. At least, successful stories have been told with his assistance. Nick Cassavetes’ 2004 adaptation of “The Notebook,” to cite the most obvious example, tells a strong story successfully. Those who faulted its contrivances, its sentimentality or its heartstring tugging missed the point — in a Sparks story, those are features, not bugs. But director Ross Katz’s “The Choice,” which mimics “The Notebook” in everything but meaningful conflict, believable characters, style and emotional honesty, is a very unsuccessful story.

Where does it go so wrong? It’s not the hospital-set prologue, in which our narrator brings flowers to a mystery woman before the film flashes back seven years. (The phrase “hospital-set prologue” is roughly synonymous with “Nicholas Sparks movie.”) Nor is it the characters, stock types drawn broadly enough to allow maximum viewer projection. It’s not even the aggressively wholesome setting along the scenically sun-dappled North Carolina coastline, where modern, smartphone-owning characters in the 21st century measure time in “two-and-a-half shakes” and respond to accusations that a single lady is “crushin’ on you” with a fulsome “Hogwash!”

Nor is the fault with star Benjamin Walker, who at best manages to evoke a Tar Heel Eric Bana as protagonist Travis Shaw. Travis has a pretty good life: a cottage whose lawn opens onto the sea, a faithful dog, a boat, a motorcycle, a job as a trainee veterinarian at his father’s clinic, abs on which a waiter could grind peppercorns, and a gorgeous on-and-off girlfriend named Monica (Alexandra Daddario, deserving of better), who brings him beers on the porch and dutifully disappears whenever her presence might prove inconvenient. A ladies’ man of the most harmless caliber, Travis throws regular barbecues with a clutch of good-looking buddies, who together resemble a gathering of commercial extras, having recently aged out of Budweiser spots, killing time until Cialis comes calling.

His life is marginally complicated by the arrival of a new neighbor, Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer), an upper-crust, flustery medical student who storms over to complain about Travis’ music. Travis offers teasing banter, Gabby responds with huffy, wide-eyed exasperation, and Travis’ salty sister (Maggie Grace) wastes no time in telling him, “You’re in trouble.” Gabby does have a steady boyfriend in local doctor Ryan (Tom Welling), but when he conveniently skips out of state for several weeks (months? years?) on business, all bets are off.

So far, so Sparks. But without a single memorable exchange or arresting image — aside from d.p. Alar Kivilo’s postcard-ready shots of the Carolina coast — this romance trudges through the motions. As adapted by scripter Bryan Sipe (whose upcoming “Demolition” promises much better), Travis and Gabby’s flirtations are vacuously slack, and neither actor possesses the magnetism to power through them. At times, their interplay resembles a pair of improv actors stuck in a pickle, volleying the same lines back and forth waiting for the other to give them something to work with, and one waits impatiently for a line of any consequence to emerge.

Or, for that matter, an actual conflict to arise. Ryan and Monica finally do arrive back on the scene, but the romantic quadrangle is resolved with comical speed. It’s not until the final act, when we learn the identity of the woman Travis is visiting in the hospital, that any significant stakes are raised, and it’s here that the film stumbles most spectacularly. It would be impossible to explain exactly how craven the ending is without spoiling it completely; but in an earlier scene, the film seems to offer a pre-emptive defense of the trick it’s going to pull, if not a mea culpa.

Midway through, Travis spots his father (Tom Wilkinson, deserving of much, much better) in the backroom of the pet clinic, discreetly replacing a dead lizard with another, identical-looking live one. Travis calls him out on it, at which point his father offers him a choice: Would he rather walk out into the waiting room and explain to a sweet 10-year-old girl that her beloved pet reptile has bought the farm? Or would he rather err on the side of well-meaning dishonesty, and emerge heroically with the little lizard appearing to have made a miraculous recovery? Travis opts for the latter.

That may be a defensible decision when it comes to little girls’ geckos. But when that same principle is applied to storytelling, as it very much is here, the narrative descends into the most manipulative variety of kitsch. This film trusts its audience no better than Travis trusts a 10-year-old’s maturity, and if viewers don’t find that at least a little offensive, they should.

That’s hardly the only instance of kitsch on display. There are dog reaction shots, cute closeups of puppies in baskets, night skies that glow like college-dorm blacklight posters, and a sequence where our two lovers seek shelter from a sudden rain shower in a gospel church whose harmoniously multiracial choir sings Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright.” Only once does Katz nail a moment of swoon-worthy romantic abandon, in an early sex scene, but even then it’s Mark E. Garner’s cozy production design and a nicely-timed National needle-drop that provide much of the heavy lifting.

Film Review: 'The Choice'

Reviewed at Real D screening room, Beverly Hills, Feb. 2, 2016. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 110 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate release and presentation of a Nicholas Sparks Productions, Safran Company, POW! production. Produced by Nicholas Sparks, Peter Safran, Theresa Park. Executive producer, Hans Ritter.

Crew: Directed by Ross Katz. Screenplay, Bryan Sipe, from the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Camera (color), Alar Kivilo; editors, Joe Klotz, Lucy Donaldson; music, Marcelo Zavros; music supervisor, Marguerite Phillips; production designer, Mark E. Garner; costume designer, Alex Bovaird; art director, William G. Davis; sound, Larry Long; supervising sound editor, Steven Iba; re-recording mixer, Chris David; special effects supervisor, David Beavis; assistant director, Chad Graves; casting, Mary Vernieu, Venus Kanani.

With: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Welling, Jesse C. Boyd, Brad James, Noree Victoria.

More Film

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

  • 'Ghostbusters': First Look at Jason Reitman's

    Watch the First Teaser for Jason Reitman's 'Ghostbusters' Sequel

    If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, it’s time to watch a teaser for Jason Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” forthcoming film. Sony Pictures released a first look at the upcoming movie, a sequel to the 1984 classic. The footage shows a glimpse of the memorable station wagon Ecto-1. The studio announced on Tuesday that the wheels are [...]

  • Anne Hathaway

    Anne Hathaway to Star in Robert Zemeckis' 'The Witches' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Anne Hathaway has closed a deal to star as the Grand High Witch in Robert Zemeckis and Warner Bros.’ “The Witches” adaptation. Variety first reported that Hathaway was holding the offer for both that and “Sesame Street,” and at the time, scheduling for both films were holding up dealmaking. With those issues settled, Hathaway is [...]

  • Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K.,

    Film Ratings Overhauled in the U.K. With Tougher Restrictions on Sexual Content

    The body that oversees film ratings in the U.K. is tightening its age restrictions and giving movies with certain types of sexual content older age ratings. The British Board of Film Classification said the changes were in response to public demand after a consultation that took in the views of over 10,000 people in the [...]

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    'Hunchback of Notre Dame' Live-Action Reboot in the Works at Disney

    Disney is in early development on a live-action “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie, based on Disney’s animated film and Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “Notre-Dame de Paris.” Playwright David Henry Hwang is attached to write the script, with Mandeville Films and Josh Gad set to produce. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will pen the music. [...]

  • Bill Skarsgard and Eliza Scanlen

    'It' Star Bill Skarsgard and 'Sharp Objects' Actress Eliza Scanlen Join Netflix's 'The Devil All the Time' (EXCLUSIVE)

    “It” star Bill Skarsgard and “Sharp Objects” breakout Eliza Scanlen will star in Antonio Campos’ adaptation of “The Devil All the Time,” which Netflix has officially acquired for distribution. Skarsgard and Scanlen join an all-star cast that includes Tom Holland, Chris Evans, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson and Tony Award winner Gabriel Ebert, who attached themselves [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content