Ham, Corn or Cheese

‘The Choice’ is a sappy Southern buffet for the Nicholas Sparks faithful

The Choice

Starring Benjamin Walker & Teresa Palmer

Directed by Ross Katz

PG-13

Hokey, sappy and awash with clichés, The Choice nonetheless serves up exactly what audiences want when they strap on a Nicholas Sparks feedbag.

Movies from Sparks’ books (Message in a Bottle, Safe Haven, The Notebook, The Lucky One, Dear John) have featured big stars (Ryan Gosling, Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, Channing Tatum, Julianne Hough, Rachel McAdams) and grossed close to $900 million. Clearly, they’ve found their niche and their audience.

The 12th movie based on a novel by the prolific author, The Choice stars Benjamin Walker from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as Travis, a drawly, smooth-talking, Southern-gent ladies’ man. Travis can charm just about any female—except his spunky new next-door neighbor, Gabby (Teresa Palmer, star of Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four and Point Break).

Travis and his dad (British actor Tom Wilkinson) are the local veterinarians, and Gabby is a nurse at the hospital, where she’s dating a hunky physician (Tom Welling, Superman in TV’s Smallville). Everyone in The Choice is white-collar and gainfully employed, and neither people nor pets seem to worry about health care in its quaint, peaceful, picture-perfect coastal North Carolina town (a favorite Sparks setting).

Everyone thinks Travis and Gabby should be a couple, especially Travis’ sister (Maggie Grace). This line of thought gains considerable traction when Gabby’s boyfriend packs up his stethoscope and goes out of town on a business trip—how convenient! Travis takes Gabby out on his boat and takes off his shirt, and Gabby shows off her rockin’ bikini bod. They splash and flirt. Gabby invites Travis over for dinner, they talk about the moon and the stars and God, and before you can say, “Hold on to your croutons,” there’s salad on the floor and bump and grinding on top of the kitchen table.

Director Ross Katz, making his mainstream feature debut after working his way up the filmmaking ladder, certainly tries to make the most of everything he’s got. He gives his two leads, Walker and Palmer, plenty of gorgeous, golden-glow close-ups. He reminds us that that time is precious and fleeting by showing us—repeatedly—shots of the tide. There’s old-time religion, new-age mysticism, a box full of puppies, a hurricane, a beach party, a festive birthday celebration, a wrenching hospital vigil, an emotional cemetery visit and a soliloquy on the significance of a chair.

When Gabby and Travis first meet, his backyard cookout has disturbed her studying for nursing exams. So it begins and so it goes: He “bothers” her, she “bothers” him, they draw closer and closer, and eventually “bother” becomes an all-purpose romantic shorthand. “Baby, bother me!” Travis breathlessly implores as he cradles Gabby later in the movie.

It’s mushy and gushy and gooey, but hey, that’s Nicholas Sparks. And if you’ve seen the trailer for The Choice, you know “the choice” refers to something that comes to involve a major, do-or-die decision.

“The secret to life is all about decisions,” says Travis. “Every path you take leads to another choice.”

The Choice offers a choice, all right—do you prefer your Southern-style canned corn with extra ham, double cheese or a heaping helping of buttered schmaltz?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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