A quaint, small-town setting, preferably on the water. A climactic scene in a rainstorm. Two beautiful but bland white people from completely different worlds who, against all odds, fall for each other. And, of course, there’s the unspeakable tragedy that threatens to keep them apart forever.
The Choice is the 11th Nicholas Sparks novel to make its way to the big screen, and it checks every single Sparksian box. Gabby (Teresa Palmer) is a diligent medical student who grew up riding horses and is now ready to settle down with her handsome doctor boyfriend. Travis (Benjamin Walker) is an easygoing veterinarian who prefers to spend his days on his boat, flirting with anything in a bikini. When she moves into the house next door, she’s immediately irritated because his barbecues (during the daytime!) keep interrupting her study sessions — and his dog may have knocked hers up.
Poor Palmer has to spend a lot of time shrewishly rolling her eyes at loud rock music and huffing at the sounds of small children playing. But soon, Travis begins to win her over, thanks to his abs and his puppy-delivering skills. (Just once, I’d like to see newborn puppies in a movie that actually look like newborn puppies, covered in slime and with their eyes closed). Things quickly get hot and heavy, until a devastating car crash leaves one of them alone, forced to — you guessed it — make an impossible choice.
The pulpy romance of Sparks movies can be fun, especially around Valentine’s Day. (2013’s Safe Haven and 2010’s Dear John both came out in early February.) But The Choice feels like Mad Libs with some of Sparks’ laziest clichés — a romantic rowboat, a colorful small-town carnival, a jealous upper-class boyfriend — and the result is a predictable, recycled mess. C