Synopsis: Travis and Gabby first meet as neighbors in a small coastal town and wind up in a relationship that is tested by life’s most defining events.
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling, Brett Rice, Tom Wilkinson, Sharon Blackwood
Director: Ross Katz
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I fought The Choice. I mean, I fought it hard. And if you’re like me, you’ve tired of your long ride on the Nicholas Sparks emotional merry-go-round film adaptations where true love is easily won and tragically lost. It also didn’t help that The Choice has, without a doubt, the worst marketing and trailers for any Sparks film to date. I warmed slightly to 2013’s The Lucky One, disliked 2014’s The Longest Ride, and was buckled in for another trite trip through a gossamer North Carolina doomed romance. Surprise! I liked it, finding it the most enjoyable Sparks film since The Notebook (that’s seven movies ago, in case you were wondering) and, while imperfect, a decent addition to the modern romance genre.
To be fair, it’s rough going for the first 20 minutes. Screenwriter Bryan Sipe (Demolition) uses that old chestnut, The Flashback Framing Device, to bait us into waiting 90 minutes for an answer to a question posed in voiceover by our leading man. Traveling seven years back in time (and making sure we know it by the hauling out a crude Blackberry) we’re plopped on the deck of a North Carolina boat where Travis Parker (Liam Neeseon look-alike Benjamin Walker, In the Heart of the Sea, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is sweet-talking some bikini-clad extras. While he’s not painted as an outright d-bag, Walker certainly gives off the ‘won’t call you back’ red flags that would send any female with half a brain running in the opposite direction.
He meets his match in Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer, bouncing back nicely from a wasted turn in 2015’s Point Break remake), a headstrong medical student nearing the end of her rotations that’s renting the cottage next door to Travis. Their ‘meet cute’ moment is anything but, with Walker and Palmer awkwardly stammering their way through the first of many squabbles eventually leading to a passionate session on top of Palmer’s dining room table.
Ah…but there’s a problem. She’s already spoken for, the trophy girlfriend of another doctor (Tom Welling, Draft Day, looking positively inflated to the point of bursting in his child’s size clothes) and he’s managing an on-again, off-again romance with a girlfriend (Alexandria Daddario, Texas Chainsaw 3D) his friends have dubbed Boomerang because she keeps coming back. When her boyfriend goes out of town and his girlfriend simply vanishes from the film without much fanfare, the path is cleared for Travis and Gabby to get all handsy as they drift around the picturesque Carolina shores. But wait…this is a Nicholas Sparks film after all so there has to be an obstacle (or obstacles) to overcome.
Like the spoiler-free reviewer I am, I’ll stop there because while the film may be lacking in overall surprise, it’s in the execution of the predictable happenings that pepper the final 1/3 of the film that helps to set The Choice apart from other Sparks yarns. Walker and Palmer overcome their initial misalignment and find some genuine chemistry which helps them both fuel the fire needed for the final act. Walker, especially, is quite good. Though at first I felt he was doing a great Matthew McConaughey impression with his country-fried twang and winking flirtations, he comes through in a big way and carries the film through some rough waters.
In retrospect, Sipe’s screenplay leaves more than a few loose ends hanging: Gabby makes a big stink about studying for her final tests only to never hear from them again once she locks eyes with Travis. It’s like her career and ambition evaporate in favor of a warm embrace. To each their own but it reduces Gabby to being a follower. There’s also some talk of Gabby coming from wealth and apart from an amusing trip home, little more is made of this diversion after milking out some laughs from a comedy of errors.
In addition to Walker and Palmer, director Ross Katz (who also helmed the excellent HBO film Taking Chance) has cast the film well. Tom Wilkinson (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) seems uncommonly relaxed as Travis’ dad, maybe because he doesn’t have to do any seriously heavy lifting. I’m still not a fan of Maggie Grace (Lockout) but she has a few nice moments as Travis’ wise sister…though it’s a shame she has to do it in one of the most hideous wigs (at least I hope it was a wig) I’ve seen onscreen in some time. Special mention must be made for Sharon Blackwood (Magic Mike XXL), a riot as an ever so slightly meddlesome receptionist. Oh, and there’s a cute dog that elicited the appropriate amount of coos from audience members.
Bring a hanky for the finale but know that you’ll have enough time to dry those tears because the film doesn’t really know when (or how) to end…so it just sort of keeps puttering along until it finds a way to close out the proceedings. It’s a too long wrap-up that starts to weigh the picture down instead of keeping it afloat. An overall sense of good will makes this extended good-bye easier to stomach, even for this reviewer so averse to schmaltz. Arriving just in time to be a smart Valentine’s Day, um, choice, this is an above average effort that’s a whole lot better than its own studio would have you believe.