Running Out of Clever Titles: A Review of “The Choice” (2016)

Well, it’s Valentine’s Day weekend and Nicholas Sparks has cranked out another masterpiece. Look, Sparks knows what works for him, and in The Choice he sticks to the classics–no glimpse into the exciting world of professional bull riding in this one. Instead of a review, I’m going to run through some of the highlights/baffling elements of this film. Spoilers ahead!

 

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  • Female Characters-Can’t write them, can’t write a hetero love story without them! Perhaps one the biggest problems for his career, I’m not sure Nicholas Sparks has ever heard women speak. It’s always been an issue, and perhaps it’s clearer here because of so many poor acting performances, but the words and actions of his female characters make no sense. They have no back stories, no desires or wishes of their own. They all prioritize matching people up with the male lead. Cuz that’s what girls talk about, right?

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I think Jack Nicholson articulates Sparks’ Writing Philosophy best.

  • Acting. Related to above, blonde Kristen Stewart Teresa Palmer, who plays the female lead, either failed to communicate or did not care about her character’s emotional arc and therefore delivered each scene with whatever emotion she felt like. Granted, its difficult to understand the reasonings her character’s actions, but it’s a Nicholas Sparks movie! She has to fall in love, feel torn, and make some tough choices. Palmer doesn’t really give us any of that.                                         images-4

 

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    This is the face I’d like to make right before accepting a marriage proposal
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    Rachel McAdams handled the manic behavior quite well

     

  • Commitment. On a positive note, Benjamin Walker, who plays the male lead, acts his ass off. Like he probably moved to North Carolina and shadowed a vet who lived on the water just to get it right. Unfortunately, the script his agent gave him was set in the 1970s so his hair and sideburns were woefully out of place. But because he was so committed the director didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was set in an ambiguous present, so they let him keep it. Often confused for Penn Badgley’s southern cousin, Walker brought emotion and charm to his character.

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  • Timeline. For a movie that opens with a scene and then flashes back seven years, it was aggressively uninterested in time. I was constantly questioning how much time passed during montages, grasping at the gestational periods we were given as my only signposts. But when we do get numbers, they make no sense. Veterinarians and doctors both have to go to school for a long time, putting them in their early-to-mid-30s at the earliest before they are practicing. If you do the math, our protagonist was conceived through statutory rape. And he conceived and raised two 10 year olds in <7 years. All of this is to say that these were simple problems that no one bothered to think about, let alone fix by adding some extra years.

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  • Tom Wilkinson. I don’t know if he owes someone a lot of money or if his career has taken a significant dip, but Academy Award Nominated Tom Wilkinson is in this movie. A lot. Clearly not excited to be there, he doesn’t phone it in as much as some of the other supporting actors. He even gives this mini interview to the New York Times about the journey(?) his character goes on. But he is really just another sounding board for our lovebirds.
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That’s a face of steely resolution
  • Crazy pacing. The story is essentially two halves, with the first one bearing the emotional weight and the second half stalling. The Best of Me tugs at the heart strings because it brings the consequences of choosing the wrong person to their deathbed. This movie has the love story of The Notebook and then transitions into the family-dealing-with-a-medical-tragedy plot of The Descendants (without the nuance and character development–oh how I wish he’d discovered his wife was cheating on him!) The two don’t mesh. For a better way to combine the two, see The Vow.
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From this
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To this with a 7-or 14-year time jump in between
  • Unclear message. There was no titular choice. According to Wikipedia, in the novel Walker’s character chooses not to take his wife off life support and moves her into a long-term care facility where she eventually wakes up. In the movie, he just doesn’t make a choice and she magically wakes up. It appears to come down to her husband’s love combined with the animist spirits in the body of his immortal dog and some homemade seashell wind chimes (obviously that’s Sparks’ faith).

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It was as if he was going for a Christian sanctity of life argument but the screenwriters (?) decided to change it at the end. I think it should have ended by revealing that the female lead is actually Terri Schiavo, and she’s in a coma for 15 years while her husband slowly drives himself crazy.

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At any rate, it’s a pleasurable experience. There are so many other problems with it, but I enjoyed it more than The Hateful Eight and Bri enjoyed it more than The Revenant. On my Sparks Rankings, I think I’ll put it somewhere near Message in a Bottle.

 

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