Director: Ross Katz
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Maggie Grace, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Welling, Alexandra Daddario
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content and some thematic issues)
Running Time: 1:51
Release Date: 2/5/16
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 4, 2016
There's a scene in The Choice, a conversation between a father and a son about a difficult decision (the eponymous one, which, by the way, the son technically doesn't make), that works to sum up a part of why Nicholas Sparks' stories can seem so innocently distasteful. That's not the intention of the scene, of course, but it still feels like a summation of a chunk of the author's worldview.
In the scene, the father explains the virtues of "broken men"—ones who have encountered significant pain in their lives and just keep on living. As a standalone scene in the context of this movie alone, it's fine enough, I guess, but as the father kept talking, I kept thinking of all the "broken men" in movies based on Sparks' books. The problem isn't that the author depicts them, but it is in the way he romanticizes the concept. It's as if no man can really show the stuff of which he's made unless he has his heart broken into a bunch of tiny pieces.
Here, the heartbreak is really sinister. It's partially because the movie suggests that the man is the cause of his own pain (The editing of the sequence and a later "joke" about needing a new truck certainly imply it), only to dismiss the entire notion because maybe we won't sympathize with him if that is the case (There are plenty of other reasons not to sympathize with the guy). There's also the way the woman who is at the center of that potential grief becomes little more than a prop—a MacGuffin about whom nobody really seems to care, except that her fate might break the poor guy's heart.
It comes as little surprise, considering that the woman exists within the first part of the movie as a prize for one of two men to "win." It's even less of a surprise when one takes into account a scene of one of those men proposing to her. During the scene, her protestations to the idea are ignored by everyone in the room. It doesn't matter what she says. This guy, despite his numerous flaws, and his wishes are what really matter. He knows best what's good and right for her, and she had better get on board with that fact.
The woman is Gabby (Teresa Palmer), a medical student renting an ocean-view house in North Carolina. It only seems fair to mention her first, since the movie ensures that whoever she is and whatever she wants are always of secondary concern. Her neighbor is Travis (Benjamin Walker), a veterinarian.
Travis isn't exactly one for commitment. He's currently dating Monica (Alexandra Daddario), but he doesn't want that relationship to go anywhere (Furthering the whole idea that the women here exist to suit Travis' needs, Monica encourages him to go after Gabby, while every scene with Travis' sister, played Maggie Grace, is a discussion about his love life). To be fair, Travis is committed to his dog and his chair, which Gabby uses as a convenient springboard to psychoanalyze him with the kind of precision that makes us wonder why she has any interest in him in the first place.
Gabby is currently dating Ryan (Tom Welling), a doctor at the local hospital. In the movie's estimation, he's wrong for her, albeit for reasons unknown. He clearly loves and supports her, but hey, Travis' dog gets Gabby's dog pregnant. From there, Travis and Gabby's shared disdain for each other becomes grudging respect becomes mutual attraction becomes a scene of unbridled passion, which plays out either as if the characters are having some kind of nervous breakdown or as if the actors are openly mocking the premise of the scene.
The first part of the movie is exactly what we've come to expect from a Sparks adaptation. The romantic leads say a lot of sappy things. The central conflict could be avoided if either one of them bothered to say anything of any value about their feelings, instead of just talking in clichés about love, loyalty, and, in an especially cringe-worthy scene, the existence of a deity. The screenplay Bryan Sipe actually skips over the scene of Gabby revealing her affair to Ryan, which might at least have provided a bit of melodramatic heft to the story.
It's the second part of the movie, though, that really vexes. It also skips over a lot, flashing forward seven years via montage to a life-or-death situation. Here, The Choice once again omits the important stuff, such as discussions about end-of-life dignity and genuine grief, so that Travis can mope about in his tragic, childish self-absorption. Spare me.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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