I am a single person who has never read a novel by Nicholas Sparks. Nor, until now, had I ever seen any of the movies based on his books. What kind of monster am I?
Sparks is the Stephen King of romance novelists. By which I mean, his books are frequently adapted for the big screen, to the point that since 2012 it's become an annual event. Many fine-looking actors have given their souls sincerely to these blessed romantic events. The Choice is the latest example.
In The Choice, every character is so agreeable and pleasant and kind and good-looking that it feels mean-spirited to point out that they're living in a fantasy world. Having said that, would any of the characters want to leave? Unlike the characters in, say, Pleasantville or The Truman Show, everyone is content with their lot in life; no rebels exist to point out incongruities or express dissatisfaction with the status quo.
The unnecessary opening narration rushes to point out the obvious, something similar to 'life is like a box of chocolates, you kin only pick one,' but less memorably banal. It's spoken by Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), who was born in Georgia (U.S.A.) and delivers his lines in the broadest Southern accent possible.
His character, Travis Parker, resides with his faithful dog in a folksy house in a beautiful corner of North Carolina, right on the water. Travis likes to flirt with the ladies, doling out corny one-liners like he was back in a high school cafeteria. As the film proper begins, he resumes an off-and-on relationship with the flighty Monica (Alexandra Daddario, stranded, without much to do) while eyeing his next next-door neighbor, Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer in a valiant performance).
Gabby also resides with a faithful dog, but she does not like her new neighbor's propensity for playing loud music. It disturbs her medical studies, which we know are serious and important to her because she wears glasses when she's studying. But all it takes is one long, soulful glance exchanged between her and Travis to know that they will end up together.
To make sure we understand this point, Travis' sister Stephanie (Maggie Grace) pokes him in the ribs and teases, 'You're in trouble!' (Or something similar; I wasn't taking notes.)
This brings up another bit of nonsense that is never explained: Travis speaks in a very broad Southern accent, not shared by his sister, nor his veterinarian boss (and possible father; I wasn't taking notes), nor anyone else in town that I heard. Why is that?
Naturally, if The Choice was more engaging, or featured sparkling wit, or revolved around people acting like believable adults, or stopped pretending it was realistic, such questions would not arise. Indeed, if The Choice immersed itself fully in fantasy, it would be easier to make allowance for the juvenile nature of the dialogue and the stock characterizations.
But what do I know? Sure, I've read hundreds of books, watched thousands of movies, and enjoyed the company of smart, intelligent, passionate, creative people, but I've certainly never experienced the unbridled, unquestioning, yet completely blinkered version of loooove as it's defined in this movie.
I better stop there, before launching into a lengthy diatribe about the dishonesty of movie romances that begin when each person is involved with another. (Where I come from, that's called "cheating," but hey, if it floats your boat to minimize the pain inflicted by betrayal and pretend it's fate or beyond your control, go with it.)
Most likely, The Choice is perfectly adequate for anyone looking for a fix of romance that is entirely divorced from reality. Most likely, that includes anyone who is a fan of Nicholas Sparks' books or past movies based on them.
For anyone else who might be tempted to test the Sparks waters, be advised that The Choice threatens to drown all observers in the most treacly sort of sentimentality. Bring a life jacket.
The Choice opens in Brazil, Colombia, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Mexico, and The Netherlands today, and in Canada, Estonia, Latvia, and the U.S. on Friday, February 5, before rolling out to additional territories in the weeks to come.