'The Choice': Film Review
Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer star in this eleventh screen adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks romance.
"There's nothin' cuter than puppies in a basket."
It's a sentiment with which everyone can probably agree, but do we really have to hear it? Yet the line is prominently delivered by a central character in the eleventh Nicholas Sparks screen adaptation, arriving just in time to offer counter-programming to the testosterone-fest that is the Super Bowl.
The Choice is the cinematic equivalent of staring at a Hallmark Card for two hours.
Set in the author's usual North Carolina locale — in this case mostly Wilmington, whose tourist board should use it as a promotional tool — the film depicts the romance that develops between an attractive young couple who naturally "meet cute" and bicker incessantly until, well, they don't.
They are charming ladies' man/veterinarian Travis (Benjamin Walker) and medical student Gabby (Teresa Palmer), who live in adjacent houses located, naturally, right on the water. One late afternoon, while Travis is enjoying a beer in the single chair on his lawn that signals his commitment issues, Gabby storms over and berates him for allowing his Saint Bernard to impregnate her Golden Retriever. Pseudo-witty banter ensues, with Travis telling Gabby, "You bother me," although clearly not meaning it.
Travis has a girlfriend, Monica (Alexandra Daddario), dubbed "Boomerang" by his friends because of the way she keeps bouncing back into his life, and Gabby has a boyfriend, Ryan, a doctor so hunky he's played by no less than Superman, Tom Welling. But Ryan makes the mistake of leaving town for a few weeks on a work assignment, leaving the door wide open for Travis and Gabby to fall into each other's arms, which they do in a countertop and kitchen table-clearing sex scene that recalls the The Postman Always Rings Twice remake, only without the heat.
Of course, since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, the characters don't simply live happily ever after, at least not for a while. Before that come romantic betrayals, anguished changes of heart and eventually a near-fatal accident that results in Travis being forced to make the titular momentous decision.
That's not really a spoiler, since the film begins with a scene in which he enters a hospital clutching a wan bouquet of flowers, accompanied by a voiceover in which he informs us that he's faced with making a choice. Non-English-speaking viewers could probably guess what it is without the help of subtitles.
In the Nicholas Sparks universe, everything and everyone is simply wonderful. Although initially depicted as a cad, Travis turns out to be kind of guy who sleeps on the floor with newborn puppies in his arms. Spurned girlfriends and betrayed lovers are nearly instantly forgiving; a young woman's parents offer romantic advice to the stranger who's brashly barged into their home, leading up to the hokiest marriage proposal ever put on film; and a late-night rowing session results in a sojourn on a private island for some stargazing, and not, as some viewers might devoutly wish, A Place in the Sun-style violence.
Add to that the endless shots of dogs looking adorably soulful, sun-dappled waters and perfect sunsets, not to mention the gorgeous and frequently bared (by PG-13 standards) bodies of the two leads, and you have a vision of existence so perfect that even a life-threatening tragedy seems like a mere blip.
Meanwhile, it's never quite explained how Travis can afford a gorgeous waterfront home while working for his father's modest veterinarian practice, or why Gabby seems to suddenly abandon her promising medical career.
Walker and Palmer go through their formulaic paces with the sort of enthusiasm generated by the hope that this effort will do for them what previous Sparks films have done for the likes of Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Among the supporting cast, Tom Wilkinson wastes his estimable gravitas in the role of Travis' widowed father who can barely muster up the courage to ask a clearly interested woman out on a date, and Maggie Grace offers twinkly-faced optimism as Travis' supportive sister. But then again, this is the sort of movie in which everyone twinkles.
Production: Nicholas Sparks Productions, The Safran Company, POW!
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Grace, Alexandra Daddario, Tom Welling
Director: Ross Katz
Screenwriter: Bryan Sipe
Producers: Bryan Sipe, Peter Safran, Theresa Park
Executive producer: Hans Ritter
Director of photography: Alar Kivilo
Production designer: Mark E. Garner
Editors: Joe Klotz, Lucy Donaldson
Costume designer: Alex Bovaird
Composer: Marcelo Zarvos
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Venus Kanani
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes