The Choice (2016)

Directed by Ross Katz
Written by Bryan Sipe

My past experiences with Nicholas Sparks movies have been mixed to say the least. I actually haven’t seen a great many of the films based on his award winning romance novels, but I certainly have an opinion on the ones I have. To mention The Notebook first would be the standard approach, and with good reason, it’s a very good film with great lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. The Notebook, however, appears to be the outlier of the bunch, as A Walk to Remember is not quite as memorable, and Safe Haven is just not good, mostly because of a poor third act twist and Julianne Hough in the lead role. I am sure there are redeeming qualities in the other films, as the films always do seem to have a certain level of charm which makes them watchable.

And I don’t mean to sound harsh, I think the “Nicholas Sparks movie” certainly has its commercial audience, one which enjoys his work a great deal. The Choice should be no different than the rest in that it features a cute love story with a third act turn and some redeeming qualities. Travis (Benjamin Walker) is a southern charmer with a boat and a beach house. When the lovely older couple next door moves out, a bright, pretty girl, Gabby (Teresa Palmer), moves in. After a seemingly icy start to their relationship, Gabby’s boyfriend, Ryan (Tom Welling), has to leave town for work for a month, a month in which Travis and Gabby fall madly in love. With the support of his sister (Maggie Grace) and father (Tom Wilkinson), Travis fights for Gabby unlike any woman he has in the past. But as life throws them a curveball, they must come to terms with how far their love might take them.

It seem as though the notability of the cast of each subsequent Nicholas Sparks movie has seen diminishing returns. At it’s peak, it was Gosling and McAdams in The Notebook, or even Kevin Costner/Robin Wright in Message in a Bottle or Richard Gere/Diane Lane in Nights in Rodanthe. So how do Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker do with the lead roles? Quite honestly, they do just fine. None is asked to do a whole awful lot above the standard fare, but each emits a level of charm to be appreciated. Together, I thought they had very good and believable chemistry on screen, though perhaps not to the level of Gosling/McAdams. Remarkably, the film manages to get many things right about love, even while painting in very broad strokes. By focusing on the relationship between these two, their development becomes believable and endearing. They are worth rooting for because you believe them to be good people who truly love each other.

Where the film perhaps wavers is in its broad strokes. It is at times cheesy and corny. The dialogue is at times forced and maybe a little “too cute”. But these elements, of course, pander to the target audience of the film, and can hardly be faulted for such a service. Once again we are faced with a dramatic third act twist, one which I was fearful would wreck what was, up to that point, a very decent romance story between Travis and Gabby. Instead the twist fails to entirely derail the movie, but it still feels out of place in such a setting, forcing the viewer down a path which is incongruent with the pace and delivery of the rest of the film. It serves a point, and I understand that, but it does serve more of a detraction than an attraction in the end. Aiding in this detraction is a rather clunky and unnecessary framing device used at the beginning of the film, which, by the time its payoff comes, falls rather flat. The film would be better served without it.

All in all, The Choice turns out to be a rather innocuous romance film that will certainly please those who might look forward to such Nicholas Sparks-type films. There are bits of worth sprinkled throughout, not the least of which is the chemistry between Palmer and Walker, who make the romance believable. At moments it is a relationship which feels very real and very loving. Tom Wilkinson also adds a nice charm to the proceedings with a rather slight role as Travis’s father. I don’t know that it ever has ambitions to be more than it really is, which is a mildly entertaining two hour foray into the love lives of fairly well off North Carolina coastal residents. There is not much in the way of hurdles to overcomes, other than the romantic kind, or the manufactured ones trust into the storyline to create drama.

**1/2 – Average

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