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Review: The Choice (2016)

The Choice (2016)

Directed by: Ross Katz

Premise: Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. A medical student (Teresa Palmer) moves into a new home neighbored by a veterinarian (Benjamin Walker). She’s currently in a relationship but the guy next door wears her down with his southern charm.

What Works: One of the consistent strengths of Nicholas Sparks films has been the casting. Whatever their other faults, pictures like The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, and The Longest Ride have featured good pairings of actors with roles, especially the lead couples. That’s also true of The Choice in which Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer have a likeable romantic chemistry. These films also frequently feature veteran actors in supporting roles; in this case Tom Wilkinson plays the father of Walker’s character and like other senior actors in Nicholas Sparks movies he brings some class and gravitas to the movie. It’s also worth pointing out the quality of the cinematography by Alar Kivilo. A number of sequences are beautifully shot especially those taking place on and around the water.

What Doesn’t: Nicholas Sparks is the Ray Kroc of Hollywood romance. Sparks isn’t in the business of making great cinema nor is he interested in thoughtful explorations of the human heart. These films are industrial products that are constructed in the same assembly line fashion that McDonald’s restaurants serve cheeseburgers and fries. That analogy is fitting insofar as Nicholas Sparks’s movies are cinematic comfort food and that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing; there is a place in the world for fast food and there’s also a place for schmaltzy romantic stories. But even allowing for all that, The Choice is a mediocre motion picture. The Nicholas Sparks oeuvre is quite thin; every one of these movies looks and sounds the same. Other formula-based stories like Friday the 13th-style slasher movies or sports sagas like the Rocky series have more variation than this. But the problem isn’t just that The Choice works through the typical Nicholas Sparks checklist. The real problem is that the film does so with such a limp imagination nor any interest in telling a compelling story. The Choice begins with the studious female character moving into an isolated home where she meets a charming but rowdy neighbor. Naturally, they can’t stand each other at first but the two gradually develop romantic feelings. That’s a standard romantic premise but the characters’ interactions are forced and the movie is utterly hapless in finding convincing ways of putting these people together. It’s only for the charisma of actors Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer that the romance has any credibility at all. She is already in a relationship and there’s nothing about her present guy that’s unlikable or even distinct. He’s just an empty sweater vest with rich parents. When he goes away for a couple of weeks Palmer’s character is tempted with the titular dilemma: be faithful to her boyfriend or succumb to her feelings for Walker’s character. But that decision doesn’t take very long at all and she throws herself into the arms of another man without even a minimum of hesitation. For a movie titled The Choice there’s not a whole lot of deliberating about anything. The allure of a romance is the cathartic experience of heartache but The Choice has none of that nor does it have any dramatic tension. The moviemakers give themselves a second opportunity to do so in the latter half of the film. In an arbitrary story development, Palmer’s character gets into a car accident and survives on life support. At that point, Walker’s character has to decide if he should turn off the machine but there’s nothing in the story compelling him to make a decision and it’s a transparently contrived plot twist intended to manufacture drama where there isn’t any.

Bottom Line: Viewers who like Nicholas Sparks stories go to these movies knowing what they’re getting. The problem with The Choice is that it doesn’t do that very well. It is an empty walkthrough of the Sparks formula without any of the romantic thrills that his fans come to see.

Episode: #582 (February 14, 2016)