The promos for the latest Nicholas Sparks romantic slog, “The Choice”, encourage you to “Choose Love”. Or, and this is probably a much wiser course of action, you could just choose a different movie. The umpteenth (give or take a few) adaptation from the author is like a distillation of all of his favored tropes; bland, vanilla romances under sun-kissed southern skies, sudden tragedy, manufactured drama, and star-crossed twists of fate. While that’s to be expected at this point, it’s amazing how little effort goes into making these films genuinely different from one another. If the casts didn’t change Sparks’ movies would like episodes of “The Young and the Restless”, telling the same story at an interminably slow pace.
Ross Katz, who previously directed the excellent indie comedy “Adult Beginners”, is your style-free director this time, while Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker are your lovers from opposite sides of the tracks. She plays Gabby, a medical student who moves to the small, coastal North Carolina town right next door to country boy and ladies’ man, Travis (Walker). We’re told just how irresistible Travis is, which is strange because he, like all of Walker’s roles he’s ever had, is pretty insufferable. Travis doesn’t want a serious relationship that would crimp his easygoing lifestyle as the town’s most eligible veterinarian, which is fine because Gabby is all shacked up with her doctor boyfriend (Tom Welling, looking jacked post-“Smallville”), until he goes out of town for a few convenient weeks.
Without her boyfriend around, Gabby naturally gravitates to Travis, who takes her out for boat rides and romantic nights out under the stars. Their courtship is brief and chemistry-free. His supposed Southern charm melts her big city heart, until her boyfriend arrives and she’s forced to make “the choice” of who she really wants. Does she stay with her man and the comfortable life he promises, or does she follow her heart to be with the rough-around-the-edges Travis?
That’s not the only “choice” that needs to be made in the film, not by a long shot. But the one that comes later, following a terrible tragedy, is best left unspoiled. Not that it’s played with the appropriate gravity such a decision demands, or perhaps it’s because Walker is incapable of giving it the right amount of emotional weight. His southern drawl aside, he doesn’t impress as a believable romantic lead, and it probably would have been better if he and Welling had swapped roles. Palmer has more chemistry during her brief scenes with Welling than she ever manages with Walker.
Arriving so close to Valentine’s Day there will be no shortage of dates dragged unwillingly to “The Choice”. And then in a few months they’ll be roped into another one because, sadly, Nicholas Sparks isn’t going away any time soon.