As I was leaving The Choice, I overheard a woman saying to a friend, “Nicholas Sparks films never disappoint.”
Counter argument: “Yes, they do.”
Okay, The Notebook wasn’t that bad—at least it resembled a “movie” in some recognizable sense of the word. But beyond that, films based on Sparks’s books have been a nearly interchangeable series of blandly hunky men and blandly vulnerable women in generic resort towns having gauzily-lit sex and facing a tragedy that threatens to (or manages to) tear them asunder, often with quasi-religious—or explicitly religious—overtones. The famous “white people almost kissing” posters, see above and below, pretty much tell the whole story.
The thing that’s particularly galling about his latest installment, The Choice, is that the script seems to think it delivers a sophisticated and witty battle of the sexes. So let me put out this public service announcement: If you are a young person and this is your first exposure to flirting/sparring repartee in a movie, allow me to direct your attention to Desk Set, The Thin Man, The Apartment, Charade, The Philadelphia Story, Shakespeare in Love, hell, even When Harry Met Sally.
Our premise: Medical student Gabby (Teresa Palmer, fine) has just moved next door to rascally playboy (is there any other kind?) Travis (Benjamin Walker, okay). She’s annoyed by him because he throws parties and plays his music too loudly and also because his sheep dog may’ve knocked-up her Golden Retriever. But turns out that Travis, who drives a pick-up truck, a motorcycle, and a motorboat (a trifecta of bad boy signifiers!) is also a veterinarian, who can deliver and lovingly tend to the new puppies. (One of the film’s many lazy mistakes: The puppies look more like Chihuahuas than retriever/shepherd mixes.) So Travis and Gabby spar, for no apparent reason other than the script tells them to. (Saying “You bother me,” is Travis’s version of flirting with Gabby—and eventually becomes their love catch phrase. Apparently, you need one these days.) Once they fall for each other, the film has no idea what a happy couple looks like unless they’re gazing at the stars, playfully swatting each other, or smooshing cake in each other’s faces.
There are obstacles, though minor: Travis has a sort of girlfriend who looks exactly like his sister (accidental, I assume, but there were a few times when I was like, “Why is he grabbing his sister’s ass!?”) and Gabby has a doctor boyfriend (Tom Welling) with a nice family that she is close to. They are dispatched with, eventually, and then we get down to the film’s big “choice,” which either involves:
a. a terrible accident
b. the power of love
c. the power of prayer
d. all of the above
I’ll let you guess.
I will say this: One thing that’s always true of a Sparks film is that the male actors—some, like Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum, who went on to become big stars—are comfortable being the object of the female gaze and take their shirts off a lot. The patrician looking Benjamin Walker, who has created a new category of hotness that will henceforth be known as “Founding Father hot,” is no exception. In that sense, I guess, Sparks films never do disappoint