At this point, one has to wonder if author Nicholas Sparks’ novels and their film adaptations are assembled overnight by elves in a workshop somewhere in North Carolina.
Sparks has had 11 of his stories made into films, the first being 1999’s Message in a Bottle starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman. Sparks’ most culturally and commercially significant book-to-screen installment was 2004’s The Notebook (No. 3 of 11) starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. It’s been mostly downhill since, with 2014’s The Best of Me and 2015’s The Longest Ride providing cannon fodder for critics and performing relatively weakly at the box office. The Choice, the latest big-screen Sparks product, continues the decline.
In The Choice, Travis (Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is a small-town veterinarian and charming Southern single guy who enjoys drinking beer, hosting barbecues, boating while shirtless and chilling with his dog in his backyard on the Carolina coast. Gabby (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) is a med student who moves in next door to Travis. One night, Gabby confronts Travis about his playing loud music while she’s trying to study. Despite their squabbling, Travis and Gabby share — surprise! — an instant attraction (they might as well be carrying signs reading “Sexual Tension”). Of course, Gabby’s in a serious relationship with a doctor (Tom Welling, Smallville) who can’t quite commit to her. The rest goes according to formula. There are beautiful people in love doing beautiful things in beautiful places. Then a tragedy befalls one of the beautiful people in love, and the other beautiful person is faced with the biggest of The Choice’s big choices.
All the syrupy melodrama synonymous with Sparks’ films is present, but The Choice achieves a level of superficiality remarkable even by these films’ standards. Shots of cute dogs elicited the biggest reactions from the audience, because everyone loves cute dogs and they take up valuable screen time that would otherwise be wasted on story and human character development. There’s even a scene in which Travis declares, “There’s nothing cuter than puppies in a basket.” This is in case you had mixed feelings about those puppies in a basket on the movie screen.
A moviegoer who is familiar with the Sparks formula and has made a conscious decision to see The Choice at least knows what he or (probably) she is getting into and might find some value in it, even if it’s a small fraction of The Notebook’s worth.
The Choice is available beginning May 3 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2016 Lionsgate Credit: Dana Hawlwy