You’re botherin’ me.
Fade in. Sunrise. A monologue that somehow ties the title that you see on your ticket stub into the story. A flash forward to what seems to be a tragedy. Present day. Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl pretends to hate boy. They fall in love. He says, “I’ve loved you since the day I laid eyes on you.” They kiss. Tragedy strikes. Tragedy is resolved. Happy ending. Fade out. Credits.
This is not only how The Choice flows, but it’s how every single film based on a Nicolas Sparks novel has unfolded since Message in a Bottle back in 1999. Still, legions of love-stricken teens, heartbroken single moms, and reminiscent elderly ladies flock to the theaters to see these “new” movies, fully aware that the same thing that happened in the last one is going to happen again in the same exact way. Maybe that’s why they keep watching Days of Our Lives and reruns of Gilmore Girls.
Here, the episode of the week is The Choice, based on Sparks’ 2007 novel and the eleventh (count em, eleventh) entry into the SCU (Sparks Cinematic Universe). Here we follow a woman who just happens to live next to a dreamy neighbor that she, of course, doesn’t find attractive at all. She doesn’t even find him attractive when she’s staring out her window at him as he fixes his boat shirtless, the sun’s reflection glistening from the mixture of body oil and abdomen. Nope, not a chance of finding that attractive.
Being a medical student (and, as she says, a girl), she discovers that her dog, Molly, has recently been impregnated, and the culprit behind this is none other than Moby, this particular (unattractive) neighbor’s trusty canine. So, after a confrontation that begins the painful journey that is Teresa Palmer’s performance, we find out that Travis the neighbor guy is actually a vet! Oh wow! How convenient! And not only that, but Gabby the neighbor girl is bothering him (in Nic Sparks’ world, that’s code for arousing him, in case you didn’t know). So, the affair begins, which doesn’t help things with her long term doctor boyfriend (will he find out?? tune in next week!), which is a level of “drama” that is intended to be added to the oh-so-original plot of boy meets girl but unintentionally makes Gabby a far less likable character.
Now, I could rip this movie apart limb-to-limb, and believe me when I say that there were more than ten occasions in which my jaw was literally, physically hanging open in disbelief at just how bad it was. But you know what? I’m not going to. I’m going to be honest. This is a Nicolas Sparks movie, and since they’re all the same, you know what you’re in for. It’s pretty bad. But it’s far from being the worst of the bunch, and honestly, there were quite a few occasions that had me smiling with a big, goofy, love-struck smile that these mediocre-to-just-plain-horrible Sparks tales seems to always put on my face.
The first two acts of the movie really managed to make me care a little about Travis (despite having nothing in common with the guy at all), and the third act really made it abundantly clear: I like this guy. And no, I’m not referring to the character Travis, but rather Benjamin Walker. I didn’t think anything of his acting chops in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but here he somehow found a way to sneak his way into my heart in the final fifteen minutes. So weird coming from a movie this far down the bottom of the cinematic barrel (Vampire Hunter wasn’t much to talk about either), but I liked him. Apart from the great Tom Wilkinson (what the hell was he thinking signing on to this movie anyway??), he is the only actor present that seems to give a damn about putting his talent to good use.
On the opposite end of that is Gabby, here played by Teresa Palmer. I sat for a day thinking of how to put my thoughts about Palmer’s performance into words and I came up without next to nothing so I decided to just wing it. She’s a very beautiful actress and I vividly remember liking her in the underappreciated gem that is Warm Bodies, but I’m not sure what dropped here, but my god is she terrible. This is a horrendous performance among the most obnoxious I’ve seen in a long time. I wanted Travis to be happy, but I kept wondering just why this girl who was so keen on cheating on her seemingly nice and caring long-term boyfriend won his heart. Maybe that’s a part of true love that I haven’t experienced. Or maybe it’s just bad writing.
On the positive side of the spectrum, this is the best looking Sparks movie I’ve seen. As I sat there, begging for the 110-minute mark to draw near sooner, I realized that it was a well shot movie that I didn’t hate looking at. For what he was given, Ross Katz (director of Adult Beginners and the Kevin Bacon-led Taking Chance) did a fairly competent job directing.
That’s really where the pros of the film end and the nonsensical Sparks stuff begins. There were moments throughout it when I considered giving the film a positive review (seriously, these Sparks movies seem to always hit me in the heart in the cheapest yet effective ways), but then the good stuff was sidelined by the overdramatic melodrama. Then I thought the film was going to end when, surprise! There’s another half hour!
The final half hour feels like a detached film, shifting the focus of the entire film to one event that has no payoff. It toys with the audience, as well, building up tension and then deflating it; building up tension again and then deflating it; and so on and so on. It reached a point where I just threw my hands up and said, “Just get on with it, already!” It’s not a terrible movie, but I would rather go back and watch The Notebook or The Longest Ride twice rather than sit through The Choice again.