At this point I feel it’s easy to say that if Nicholas Sparks jotted down a grocery list on a napkin studios would be clamouring to adapt it into a movie. As much as a lot of us would love to hate anything with his name attached to it, save maybe The Notebook, his writing is almost a guaranteed money maker for any studio. Including this latest offering, Sparks has seen his work in film form eleven times since 1999’s Message in a Bottle. For those doing the math that works out to a new formulaic love story every year and a half, give or take. Oversaturation? Maybe, but you’d have to dig a little deeper in the numbers.
So, let’s look at the money involved. Message in a Bottle cost $80 million and made $119. Three years later, A Walk To Remember is made for $11 and takes roughly $47 which paved the way for The Notebook which was made for $30 million and took a total of $120. This opens the floodgates on Sparks as the next nine films are quickly optioned for more movies, starting with Nights in Rodanthe, a film for the older crowd, which took a total $85 million and got slaughtered in reviews. The rest would know their audience and stick to the younger and tween crowd.
All of the remaining Nicholas Sparks films up until 2014 would go on to be profitable, earning at least $60 million more than it’s budget. This trend stopped with the James Marsden starring film The Best of Me, not that the film lost any money though, it just wasn’t as lucrative as they were used to. Has the audience tired of the Nicholas Sparks money making empire or was this just indicative of the stars attached? Obviously nothing has topped the massive status Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams gained from The Notebook but it is glaringly true that Zac Efron and Channing Tatum can sell tickets better than James Marsden or Scott Eastwood, at least for now in Eastwood’s case.
Now the question is, will this ring true in the new film, The Choice? The star power is a little lower, though audiences may be able to gravitate around female lead Teresa Palmer, that’s if there’s still love for her in Warm Bodies. Benjamin Walker may be the harder sell with only Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, which was awful and the recent dud In The Heart of the Sea. Who knows though, maybe the target market will love his Eric Bana like look and his shirtless scenes in the film. I’ve been wrong before too many times.
The Choice follows Walker’s character Travis, a southern man living in the small coastal town of Beaufort. He works with his father as a veterinarian in a shared practice with his father (Tom Wilkinson). In his off time Travis rides around with his married friends in his boat and is a little bit of a non committal ladies man. This is all thrown out the window when he meets his new next door neighbor Gabby, a nurse and med school student. The two form a shaky friendship at first, Gabby feeling completely obtuse towards Travis’s laissez faire attitude, trying to throw the red herring of these two never getting together. Nice try, Sparks!
As these two characters grow closer and closer, at first through Gabby’s dog being knocked up assumedly by Travis’s dog, it becomes apparent that they can’t avoid the magnetism of their attraction. This proves to be problematic for Gabby as she seems to forget for the majority of the second act that she’s in a serious relationship with one of the doctors at the hospital, Ryan (Tom Welling). Frustratingly for the audience, she continues to completely ignore this until Travis is basically slapped in the face with this. As the viewer, we have to continue to root for Gabby in spite of her cheating ways? I was already lost on this development.
Long story short, Gabby must make a “choice” of which man she gives her heart to. That sentence feels just as sappy as it comes across in the film and even more cliched when it appears on screen. The ending to this film is horribly obvious as is the contrived dialogue that peppers this film throughout. For every real feeling moment in this movie there are many moments that take all of the feeling out of anything likeable. Then the third act comes along and destroys anything else this film had going for it with some truly ham fisted writing and a manipulative last couple minutes that seems to be the norm for a Sparks movie now.
The only things I can be positive about on this film is the two leads. Benjamin Walker comes across as the most human and real performance he’s ever given on screen. The only one I’ve seen him in that takes place in modern times, Travis is almost an enjoyable character until unoriginality rears is ugly and too often seen head. Teresa Palmer on the other hand is a joy to look at on screen but it’s quickly apparent that this role could be played by almost anyone and still come off the same. The just speaks to the nothingness the film brings and the cookie cutter nature of this whole sub genre.
It’s crazy to think that besides the new Coen brothers film, the first week of February is entirely owned by the tween and, although I hate using this term, “chick flick” audience with this and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies seeing release. This proves to be an easy win for Hail, Caesar! in this box office race, as The Choice is just as mediocre as it’s opening partner. I give this a one and a half out of five.