For the legions of Nicholas Sparks fans, The Choice will probably be clear when deciding whether to see the latest film adaptation of the prolific romance novelist’s work.
Yet the same assembly-line mentality that keeps Sparks’ readers coming back to the theater will probably steer others away, since this slick and calculated effort basically contains variations on the same characters and scenarios we’ve seen before.
As with his previous stories, it takes place on the coast of North Carolina, where Travis (Benjamin Walker) is a young small-town veterinarian and outgoing beach bum whose flirtations with his new next-door neighbor, a medical student named Gabby (Teresa Palmer), are both obnoxious and charming.
When Gabby’s doctor boyfriend (Tom Welling) goes out of town, Travis tries to make his move. But things are complicated because she’s playing hard to get, and he has a fear of commitment stemming from some past emotional trauma that’s revealed later.
The resulting love triangle creates an obstacle to their deepening mutual attraction, along with a more serious issue that threatens their relationship later on.
Amid all the chiseled bodies and pretty faces, Tom Wilkinson brings welcome depth as Travis’ father, whose grief over his wife’s death allows him to share some bittersweet wisdom. “There’s no shame in being a broken man,” he tells Travis during a moment of self-doubt.
As directed by Ross Katz (Adult Beginners), the film captures some lovely scenery along the way, with its sun-swept beaches, quaint rural carnivals, and picturesque seaside cottages.
However, Bryan Sipe’s screenplay doesn’t extract many surprises or subtleties from the source material. You can figure out where the story generally is headed not long after the obligatory meet-cute. And there are lots of adorable dogs to challenge your cuteness threshold.
The Choice is shallow and obvious even by Sparks’ standards, with a heavy dose of melodrama and minimal insight into contemporary relationships despite its thought-provoking pretenses and its dime-store outlook on true love.
In fact, by the time the film — after a third-act twist — finally gets around to the life-altering choice referenced in the title, there isn’t much room left for any emotional investment in the outcome.