Movies made from books by Nicholas Sparks are like those hard candy hearts that are so popular for Valentine’s Day. They are sweet, not overly complicated and the message is spelled out in very clear terms.
The latest adaptation of a Sparks novel, “The Choice,” is no different. This story about two mismatched people who fall in love despite their best efforts to avoid it clearly stresses the importance of taking time to appreciate the important people in your life. If you don’t, there may be a dramatic choice to be made that will change it all.
At the heart of the latest love story are the determined Gabby (Teresa Palmer) and the live-big Travis (Benjamin Walker). The pair meet as neighbors living on the coast of North Carolina.
She’s a medical school student who has made her career the primary focus of her life. Her well-thought-out life is disrupted by Travis, who lives life to the fullest. Sparks fly when they meet, and it doesn’t take a romance expert to know they are headed for an emotional connection.
The screenplay by Bryan Sipe based on the Sparks book unapologetically throws every romance cliche into the mix, from a sick dog to a missed romantic dinner. While most of the story looks at the small choices people make that lead them to a moment in time, it’s a major decision that serves as the cornerstone of the movie.
By that time, the audience either cares that Gabby and Travis have found each other and the choice will be emotionally draining or the pair hasn’t captivated their interest and the decision ends up being trite and a major gimmick.
It’s easy to like this couple. Palmer (“Warm Bodies”) brings a spunky energy to the role that makes her character strong enough to make a free spirit like Travis change his ways. And Walker (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) has a real Southern gentleman charm that makes him likable even when he lives his life like a fraternity brother.
Palmer’s career is filled with her playing characters who have fallen for offbeat guys like zombies and aliens. It’s nice to see her finally play the role of an average person who is dealing with love.
There are some small story threads featuring Maggie Grace, Tom Welling and Tom Wilkinson. But the simplicity of the Sparks story keeps pulling all of the attention back to the hard candy center.
This love story unfolds in the family grounds of North Carolina, always a safe haven for Sparks. Unlike other movies based on his books, this one embraces the geography with more passion and purpose. The ruggedness of the coastline coupled with the uncertainties of the seas that lie just beyond are reflective of what’s going on with the star-crossed lovers.
It all ends up being familiar pieces of the kind of stories Sparks tells so well. He’s found the right formula of creating likable people, pushing them together and then creating a crisis that will either make or break their love.
You have to be pretty cynical to believe there will be a major break. But, in the case of “The Choice,” the final act reaches melodramatic levels as the story moves toward its finale. There are some big questions about the aftermath of “The Choice,” but talking about them means too many spoilers.
The best thing to keep in mind is that movies based on a Sparks book are going to embrace the gooey side of romance. There are always some variations, but the author doesn’t hide the fact he’s a pure romantic.
Just like those hard candy hearts, what he offers isn’t supposed to pass as some complicated look at life. He keeps it simple and that makes it an enjoyable – and far from deep – date movie.
“THE CHOICE,” starring Teresa Palmer, Tom Welling, Maggie Grace and Benjamin Walker. Directed by Ross Katz. Written by Bryan Sipe, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. A Lionsgate release. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues. Running time: 1:51