The Choice (2016)

Final Rating: 2.7/10

Nicholas Sparks has done it again. When I say that, I mean he has rewritten the same story again. Two people who most likely shouldn’t be in love fall in love. This is usually due to one person being “bad” or “tortured”, one person being already in a relationship or a combination of the two. Once they are in love, some unforeseeable guilt-tripping plot device plugs the story up until it is congested with schmaltz. Rinse and repeat with a new name, new problem and new stars. You can always feel the Sparks treatment when these phoned in burdens take place. They can be cancer, amnesia, war or anything that forces an audience to either feel awful or feel awful laughing.

As formulaic as a Nicholas Sparks film is, there can still be a bottom of the barrel, and if The Choice isn’t the stiffened scrapings, it’s damn close. Ross Katz is attached to some noteworthy films (Lost in Translation and In the Bedroom), but his directing certainly needs some work. The beginning of this latest Sparks adventure (akin to calling pizza a vegetable) known as The Choice is directed like a bad Hallmark film (and they’re already not great to start). It’s too unfocused, especially with how awkwardly edited every shot is. Oddly enough, the film actually begins to warm up during its halfway point and it becomes more tolerable. Once you get to the “Sparks moment”, however, The Choice makes some god awful decisions.

Teresa Palmer as the female lead was a good pick. She is charming for most of the film, and her only awful moments come from horrible writing and directing. She will say a weird line or have an uncomfortable pause. When her jaw hangs glaringly open and she becomes inhuman during shocked moments, it pains me to see someone with something there being misguided. Benjamin Walker as the male lead is decent. His southern drawl that stretches from here to Tennessee is quite off putting to start, but you get used to his yes-ma’am-mannerisms. The supporting cast is also manageable, and no one sticks out as awful.

That can’t be said for the rest of the film, though. Inject a chain of written dialogue that sounds like written dialogue, and you’ve got a mechanical film apparently about humans. The Choice oozes out line after line, and each sentence sounds more like an awful pick up flirt instead of a confession from the heart. We get it, you two. You claim that you annoy each other, and that’s your way of being cute. Have you thought about what we feel about this repeated line? Great movie lines sound like a gifted mind within the film said it and not the writer creating the scene. The Choice feels like a screenwriting project in one’s undergrad that required specific components. 

Let’s go back to that Sparks moment I mentioned, because these Sparks moment contain anything but his last name. Before, he dealt with biological shut downs and other forms of dying. This time, Palmer’s character gets put into a comatose state after a severe car accident. This plot turnaround is shown in the trailers, yet it happens quite close to the end. It is a nightmare that is, again, tossed to the end of the story in order for us to know when to feel sad. Well, I saw walk outs at this moment, so the magnetic moment of the film only repelled instead. We do feel guilty. We feel guilty for finding human misery comedic and silly, not for sympathetic reasons. Shame on you, Nicholas Sparks. 

If you are worried about being spoiled, skip this paragraph. I can’t see why you would be, though, especially since The Choice is a predictable story. You’ll see the result coming from a mile away. Yes, when Palmer’s character wakes up and is fine, my co-audience members erupted into laughter instead of applause. This is because Walker, her lover, sprints to the hospital to see if she’s fine after her wind chimes start swaying (the wind can predict recoveries, I suppose). It is goofy and an absolute mockery to treat a serious problem some people face daily like this. This gets even worse when there is a disgusting edit during this phase. We are in the hospital and we cut to a graveyard. We then see Walker talking to a grave. It turns out to be his mothers’ grave. Isn’t that cute? We only think Palmer’s character died. It was just the mother who died from earlier in Walker’s life! This is quite a malicious twist that will infuriate many like it did me. Death: Now a cheeky twist in a romance story!

In fact, most romance films are supposed to be relatable. Not much of The Choice is. Palmer’s parents willingly accept some man they barely know into their daughters’ life instead of listening to her. Palmer storms out of a restaurant after Walker has to skip dinner for the second time for work related reasons (you know he works as the town’s main veterinarian, right?). Everything feels like a device, and that only makes the gender stereotyping even worse. The guy has to be the badass and the girl the easily swooned target who tries to pretend to be stubborn. 

The only thing the film does alright is the chemistry that evolves during the initial phases of the relationship. Aside from that, this film is insulting. It wastes a good lead with Palmer. It spits on a trauma that is already difficult to even talk about (and on death). It cannot even be cheesy correctly. What is this titular choice, exactly? Is it whether or not to keep Palmer on a machine to survive? Is it to pick Walker over your fiance? Is it to give a little girl a new lizard to pretend it’s still alive rather than telling her it actually died? I think the choice should be to stop Nicholas Sparks from 1) telling the exact same story 2) shaming his audience and 3) getting adapted into sludge that poisons the heart with shallowness. 

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.