Walker and Palmer’s likeability vs. familiar clichés make ‘The Choice’ a hard one
Directed by: Ross Katz
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer, Tom Wilkinson, Tom Welling, Maggie Smith
“The Choice” (2016) – Wrightsville Beach, NC is a sparkling, little community and complete with blue skies, boat rides, lush green lawns, barbeques, and friendly neighbors. It carries a real Bedford Falls (the town in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)) feel, but with much nicer weather. Travis (Benjamin Walker) enjoys all that Wrightsville has to offer, as he celebrates his bachelorhood with the aforementioned boat rides, barbeques and friendly neighbors in the specific form of attractive women. Travis is quite the ladies’ man, but he falls hard for his brand-new, next-door neighbor, Gabby (Teresa Palmer), who is a smart and beautiful doctor completing her residency at a nearby hospital.
Director Ross Katz provides a sweet and light environment in a film adaptation of the 2007 Nicholas Sparks novel, and it seems to bathe in confectionary sugar and place pleasant ornaments around the leading couple, Travis and Gabby. For example, Travis’ friends are a collection of good-looking young people with bright smiles, 6-packs of beer and steaks for the grill. Supportive family members also lend their cheerful help, and brand new puppies even make an appearance. Fun times do not only appear in Travis’ backyard, as the nearby county fair contains a plethora of sights, sounds and opportunities to win plush stuffed animals. Even a random motorcycle ride on a rain-soaked, country road offers an opportunity for potential romance. When I think about it, Bedford Falls does not hold a candle to Wrightsville. Pack my bags, because I’m moving!
With a massive effort to make the film’s setting an agreeable one, it certainly delivers good vibes for the audience, even for the most curmudgeon-like among us. On the other hand, the movie connects because of Walker and Palmer and their on-screen chemistry. The two bring instant likeability to Travis and Gabby and win over the audience’s affections for their affections. Travis might be proudly single, but he also has a southern and respectful charm with just enough humor and playfulness, while Gabby offers classic good looks, a sharp intellect and a feisty independence. The characters and the actors match very well and successfully convey a relationship in deep need of pursuing.
Now, regardless of the movie’s good, organic feelings, “The Choice” conversely becomes tremendously populated with love story clichés. Not to walk through all of them, but here are a few:
Gabby’s boyfriend, Ryan (Tom Welling), needs to leave town for a few weeks at nearly the same time that she moves in next door to Travis. Travis’ perceptive sister (Maggie Grace) repeatedly warns him that he “is in so much trouble”, and when the Travis-Gabby-Ryan conflict hits some high notes, Ryan, of course, punches out our hero.
The movie simply feels very, very familiar. It also feels rushed, because it’s a tricky business to capture the essence of a book’s love story in just under two hours. Interestingly enough, Sparks said in a recent interview that he is currently writing for a 10-episode show for HBO. I believe a longer medium would be better place for his material, as the story will have time to develop and grow, instead of shoehorning it within a feature film.
Well, despite the deliberately-sweetened small town affects with all the love story boxes properly checked, the movie does emotionally grab you, and the main two reasons are Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer. Some smaller reasons are nice supporting performances by Welling, Grace and Tom Wilkinson. No, “The Choice” does not break any new barriers in the genre and in fact, recycles heaps of old material, but it does offer a taste of life in Wrightsville Beach, and it’s not a bad place to stay for 1 hour and 51 minutes. (2/4 stars)