In case you lack a calendar or foresight, it’s worth noting that Valentine’s Day is coming up. How do I know this? Because a new Nicholas Sparks movie is upon us. That’s right, the man who touched millions with ‘The Notebook’ and then got a free pass to crank out a decade’s worth of painfully cornball romantic crap has returned.
‘The Choice’ has everything a horrible Nicholas Sparks movie needs. There’s a pair of generic white Barbie and Ken dolls destined to experience love so impossible that even a teen girl with a diary addiction would considered it far-fetched. There’s a vague rural setting that could take place anywhere in the U.S. (along with a mix of Southern and Yankee accents to keep everyone happy). There’s a tragic twist that will test the bounds of love. There’s a thick splash of Christian values. There’s a scene with the central couple caught in the rain while wearing white shirts. And above all else, there’s absolutely not one second of screen time that could be confused with real life. There’s no need for any of that in Nicholas Sparks Land. He makes long distance phone plan commercials stretched out to feature length, and just like those cheesy TV spots, they’ll make your loneliest aunt cry.
This time, Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer are the two impossibly pretty people assigned to mannequin duty at the center. Travis (Walker) is a veterinarian and good ol’ boy who likes beer and barbeque and corner store philosophy and playing with his dog. Gabby (Palmer) is a medical intern and rich girl living next door who doesn’t take too kindly to his country boy shenanigans. Their first meeting is a fight after she’s convinced his dog impregnated hers. Oh boy, does it ever look like they won’t get along, and they both have partners so it’s not like they’d ever date anyway!
However, they look like Ken and Barbie, which means that they’re destined to join forces in a dream house. Flirtation starts by exchanging notes through their dogs. That leads to make-out sessions, which leads to love so strong that they practically radiate a Country Western soundtrack. They marry and have kids. Years pass, but they don’t age (that’s what love does, I guess). Then there’s a horrible accident that leaves one of them in a coma and the other one facing an impossible choice (see title). Could true love possibly conquer this painful obstacle? God, I don’t know. I just don’t know. Also, yes it can. Sorry for the spoiler.
A new writer and director have been assigned to this chapter of the Sparks cinematic universe, but it’s not even really worth mentioning their names. It’s not like any filmmaker can impose his or her voice onto a piece of Nick Sparks crap. That’s not how it works. The author’s boring, repetitive garbage voice conquers all. There’s only one way to write dialogue in a Sparks script: Write it like a greeting card, then make it cheesier. And there’s only one way to shoot a Sparks movie. Sample discussion on set: “I’m worried this doesn’t look enough like a ’90s shampoo commercial. Is there any way we could have more long grass blowing in the wind?”).
‘The Choice’ looks and feels exactly like every Sparks special since ‘The Notebook’. You’ve got to at least admire the way the novelist’s voice dominates any other artist who crosses his path. Well, maybe “admire” isn’t the right word, but it’s at least the most polite one.
If there’s one thing that makes ‘The Choice’ stand out among Sparks’ cinematic shit heap, it’s the fact that this might be his most Christian tale yet. Oh sure, all of his stories are Christian. They’re all about that special type of chaste love comprised of snuggles and kisses and shirtless abs and promises without any dirty, filthy nipples or genitals to complicate things. However, this movie goes a step further than most. It features overt discussions of faith and its importance. The big scene where the couple get caught in the rain in white shirts concludes not with a soaking wet game of tonsil hockey, but a secret hideaway in a church. Then of course comes the coma plot and its inevitable “Pull the plug or not pull the plug?” dilemma. That’s pretty tough stuff for a Nic Sparks flick and a storyline that had me thinking it might actually go somewhere complicated. That was just me being silly, though. No, this weighty problem only needs a little prayer and a lot of faith to right itself. That’s just how things work in Sparks Land, a magical place where adults can hide from emotional maturity forever!
Yes, ‘The Choice’ is crap. The dialogue is laughable, the characters are paper thin, the actors are merely attractive focal points for the camera, the story wouldn’t make it past most soap opera pitch meetings, the religious subtext is text, the emotions are hysterical, and the manipulation is palpable. However, it’s horrible in the exact same way all previous Nicholas Sparks movies have been. With the possible exception of ‘The Notebook’ (which at least had two great actors at the center and a director who kind of cared), it’s virtually impossible to distinguish these movies from each other beyond whichever vaguely famous stars embarrass themselves by signing on.
Yet these movies remain inexplicably popular. Maybe it’s because so few romantic movies are released anymore despite the fact that date nights still exist. Or perhaps there’s a portion of the population who actually fall for this nonsense. Who knows? Regardless, someone like myself pointing out how completely unredeemable ‘The Choice’ is as a movie won’t in any way impede its success. Sadly, there’s an audience out there for these movies and I wish those people the best of luck in life.