When it comes to Nicholas Sparks movies, we always know one thing: expect love and heartbreak. Bring tissues. So, is this one a sappy romance worth crying over?
Nicholas Sparks‘ latest book adaptation is based on a love story between Theresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker, and with puppies (yes, really) and a widowed old man, it seems like the perfect ingredients to make a successful tear-jerker we’d love.Is The Choice worth the high movie costs? According to the critics, not so much.
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In spite of his status as a critical punching bag, Sparks is usually a successful storyteller. At least, successful stories have been told with his assistance. Nick Cassavetes’ 2004 adaptation of “The Notebook,” to cite the most obvious example, tells a strong story successfully. Those who faulted its contrivances, its sentimentality or its heartstring tugging missed the point — in a Sparks story, those are features, not bugs. But director Ross Katz’s “The Choice,” which mimics “The Notebook” in everything but meaningful conflict, believable characters, style and emotional honesty, is a very unsuccessful story.
At around the 90-minute mark, The Choice makes a choice. It could, if it wanted to, just call it quits. By this point we’ve essentially witnessed a full three-act story, albeit a fairly slight one. It’s a courtship film with a few hurdles, reversals and, eventually, a happy ending. Ninety minutes is, as any film exhibitor will tell you, a suitable length for a feature. But The Choice is based on a Nicholas Sparks book, and produced by the same North Carolina-based author of vaguely Christian sentimental pap. And as is his trademark, the story can’t just be simple: it needs some sort of ludicrous last-minute conflict and ridiculous twist. The Choice chooses this well-worn path, give us about another 30 minutes, and we’re all the worse off for it.
The real blame, here, then, seems to reside in Sparks’ own source material. It looks very much like the author’s world, but it’s stripped of silliness, yearning and electricity. Its universe lazily collapses in on itself due to sheer monotony, its unseen yet omnipresent Sparksian Hand of God tires of playing with the cash-generating toy it patented. Maybe the title is, itself, a move by Sparks, the comfortable author making a tepid joke about his own boredom. Call a story “The Choice,” but make sure it’s unconcerned with the choices it makes. Build nothing and ask an audience to admire it. Make sure the leading man repeats, “You bother me,” as his devotion builds, but in a film that can’t be bothered at all.
So, will you see The Choice?