At this point, you know what you're going to get with a Nicholas Sparks adaptation: a pair of blandly attractive young actors, some generically attractive locations, gentle acoustic guitar music, dialogue that feels pulled directly from a daytime soap opera, a large portion of formulaic romance and a small portion of heartstring-tugging tragedy. This year's model is The Choice, which follows the usual Sparksian beats so faithfully that it ought to be accompanied by a deja vu warning.
The Choice at least has the decency to avoid treating its inevitable third-act medical emergency like a surprise. It opens in a hospital, where we find the somber-looking Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) holding a bouquet. A doctor asks him who he wants to see. “Someone who deserves the stars and the moon... and all I got are these damn flowers,” Travis says, dipping every word in a southern drawl pulled straight out of Gone with the Wind and submitting his best Ryan Gosling Face of Eternal Devotion.
Then, the words “seven years earlier” float across the screen, and we discover that Travis was not always a sad man with a bouquet. Now, we see him as a carefree young veterinarian who spends his days hanging out on his boat and flirting with every woman he comes in contact with. He also has a casual on-and-off relationship with Monica (Alexandra Daddario, San Andreas), who has earned the nickname “Boomerang” (because she's always running off and then coming back). She's clearly not The One. That would be Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies), a medical student who is currently dating a genial doctor named Ryan (Tom Welling, Smallville). Ryan seems like a good guy, but he's clearly not The One, either.
Gabby and Travis may be in relationships with other people when they first meet, but c'mon: they're holding each other and laughing on the poster, so you know they're going to get together eventually. They have one of those oh-so-familiar romances that starts on an incredibly hostile note (she's angry at him because she believes his dog impregnated her dog) and stays that way until both parties are suddenly making out with each other to the strains of The National.
Not much else of interest happens for the first eighty minutes or so. There are a handful of blandly pleasant scenes involving Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton) as Travis' genial father, a few mild arguments, a few makeout sessions, a little bit of turbulence involving Ryan and Monica and lots of footage that looks like it ought to be accompanied by a narrator saying, “Ask your doctor if Viagra is right for you.”
Then, we arrive at the inevitable tragedy. I won't reveal what happens, but suffice it to say that it's yet another shamelessly manipulative, heavy-handed bit of storytelling that takes a feather-light story and drops a 200-pound weight on it. Voila! Gravitas! It's a familiar Sparks technique, but it's become such a predictable beat that it no longer even manages to muster up a little bit of shock value. Here, it merely serves to change the film's vibe from “Viagra commercial” to “antidepressant commercial,” as Travis goes back to his boat and stares out at the horizon as he thinks about the woman who deserves the stars and the moon (or at least some flowers).
Enough snark. You know whether or not this movie is for you. It's a Nicholas Sparks movie from head to toe. Yes, I realize that Sparks didn't actually write the screenplay or direct the movie (the director is Ross Katz, who made the respectable Taking Chance and produced some excellent Sofia Coppola movies), but Nicholas Sparks movies always end up feeling like Nicholas Sparks movies. I suspect we'll have this same conversation next year: Sparks will keep repeating himself, and so will I, and so will moviegoers.
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 111 minutes
Release Year: 2016