It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so another Nicholas Sparks adaptation is upon us. This genre’s declining quality continues with “The Choice,” which perpetuates the same problems as the preceeding films based on Sparks’s source material. The uneven gender dynamics, the clichéd view of small-town living, and the suggestion that certain kinds of love are more special than others are all some of Sparks’s hallmarks – and they’re used again here to diminishing returns.
Following last year’s “The Longest Ride,” which introduced legions of teenage girls to Scott Eastwood’s pretty face, and 2014’s “The Best of Me,” which aimed for an older demographic, “The Choice” fits neatly into Sparks’s anguished-lovers sweet spot. There is a medical emergency, a misunderstood romance, a girl who grew up in privilege and a “country boy” who isn’t sure she’ll accept him as he is—this all sounds familiar, right? This should, if you have seen or read anything at all even remotely related to Nicholas Sparks, all sound irritatingly familiar.
“I’m about to tell you the secret of life,” says Travis (Benjamin Walker, of “In the Heart of the Sea”) in the film’s opening narration; after we see him enter a hospital with a bouquet of flowers, the story jumps back seven years. In Wilmington, North Carolina, Travis is a bona fide ladies’ man; although his two (nameless) best friends have settled down with their (nameless) wives and (nameless) children, Travis is still cruising his boat around, flirting with women, and generally living the life of a single bachelor in his late 20s with a beautiful dog and waterfront property.
But then into his life enters new neighbor Gabby (Teresa Palmer, of “Point Break”), a resident at the local hospital finishing up her medical training. She can’t stand his particular kind of obnoxious flirting, his tendency to call her “lady,” or his smugness, and they immediately get off on the wrong foot. Their proximity, though, brings them together—when she needs his veterinarian expertise delivering her dog’s puppies, or when he invites her on a boat trip with his friends—and although they’re each dating different people, they’re drawn to each other.
What ends up happening between them is, of course, what you expect to happen between them in a Nicholas Sparks movie. But what is so frustrating about this narrative in particular is, that like all romances in the Sparks genre, this pairing between Travis and Gabby is presented as the end-all, be-all.
Their love is Special with a capital S—the film even suggests that it’s approved of by God or some other divine entity—and so it doesn’t matter that their relationship hurts other people. It doesn’t matter that what occurs between them begins as infidelity, or that Gabby in particular is shown toying with other people’s emotions with no true reasoning for her actions, or recourse for her behavior. As is so often the case with Sparks’ material, it is the woman here who can’t make up her mind, who doesn’t know what she wants, and who—most unnecessarily—seems to abandon her promising medical career when she enters into a romantic relationship.
Sparks’ work is targeted almost exclusively to women, and Travis, with his Southern accent, his motorcycle, and an armful of puppies is clearly meant to tug at teenage girls’ heartstrings. But it’s irresponsible, especially for young female viewers, to wrap up messages about true love in good, old-fashioned patriarchy and polite misogyny, yet that is exactly what Sparks does in “The Choice.” Why would anyone want to celebrate their Valentine’s Day this way? Don’t make “The Choice.”