The Choice is the latest Nicholas Sparks story to make it to the big screen. All the familiar elements are there: lovers from different worlds, a charming little Southern town, and just a touch of tragedy to add gravity to what would otherwise be just a flighty little romance. But the way The Choice assembles formulaic components feels particularly awkward. There are portions that feel like the movie has been put on autopilot, the story moving itself for the sake of moving, rather than being guided by a narrative hand.
Med student Gabby (Teresa Palmer) has just moved to a quiet little Southern coastal town, and is preparing for the boards. Her neighbor Travis (Benjamin Walker) is a charming veterinarian with whom she doesn't get along. The two are already in relationships, but they still find themselves strangely drawn to each other. When Gabby's dog gets pregnant, the two end up spending more time together, giving the two ample opportunity to explore their mutual attraction. In spite of their many differences, the two fall in love. The two overcomes the distance between them, only to face a challenge that forces Travis to make an impossible choice.
This isn't really a romance movie in the strictest sense. Although it spends most of its time on the burgeoning relationship between Travis and Gabby, the movie isn't about whether or not the two of them end up together. The movie hardly throws any obstacles in their way, the differences between the two never really becoming much of an issue. The fact that the two of them are already in relationships doesn't matter much, either. The movie treats their being together as a foregone conclusion, neither having to deal with anything of substance in order to achieve that goal.
The real dramatic conflict of this movie comes nearly ninety minutes into the runtime. This basically becomes another movie as the narrative introduces a whole new problem that has little to do with whatever the two went through on the way to that point. The titular choice is a pretty weighty one, and could have served as a strong emotional anchor for the entire film. But as it comes at such a late point, it never really has the impact that it ought to have. And the sudden depth of tragedy clashes with the overly mild tone established in the opening hour and a half of the film.
Visually, the film is indistinguishable from every other Nicholas Sparks adaptations. This has a lot to do with the lack of variation in setting, but the film just doesn't try very hard to leave its own mark. The acting mostly gets the job done, though there are a few questionable choices. Benjamin Walker lays the Southern accent on thick, which kind of fits the character. But bizarrely, he is the only person in the film with a drawl. He is the only person in his family with an noticeable accent. It's a small thing in the end, but it is pretty distracting. Teresa Palmer is all right, but this movie just isn't about her.
The Choice is structured weirdly, and that keeps it from being effective in any way. It feels as though this story was put together by just plugging in elements into the Sparks formula, without any real thought put into how it all fits together. Even when viewed purely for the value of it as a Nicholas Sparks property, the movie falls well short of the standards set by previous work. The romance is tepid and the brush with tragedy feels extra artificial. Its stars don't seem particularly motivated, and the filmmaking is thoroughly indistinct. One would be served better by rematch ingredients on of the previous adaptations of the author's work.