Look! Puppies!

Cute little dogs are the secret weapon of The Choice

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

thechoice

The Choice
Cineplex
2 out of 5

Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks has the romance novel down to a science. Using the same elements time and time again (idyllic small town settings, willful female leads, brooding yet sensitive male protagonists, wise old-timers, a token tragedy and a dash of Catholic spirituality), Sparks has built an empire that now includes 19 novels and 11 Hollywood adaptations. Let’s just glide over the fact that precious few minorities or poor people appear in his work.

Outside of The Notebook, critics regularly savage movies based on Sparks’ novels (fair enough). But there are shades of gray worth noticing. In Nights in Rodanthe, so-so material is elevated by pros Richard Gere and Diane Lane, while in the so-bad-it’s-good Safe Haven, the god-awful acting is one-upped by the craziest plot twist this side of M. Night Shyamalan.

Mercifully, The Choice features a decent cast lead by Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter), clearly slumming it (then again, he was in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter). Walker is Travis, a veterinarian and the resident ladies’ man. His bachelor run comes to an end the moment he meets Gabby (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies), a headstrong med student dating another guy. You can figure out what “the choice” comes down to, but there’s a second one just around the corner.

The front half of The Choice, the one focusing on Travis and Gabby’s budding relationship, is by far the strongest. There is nothing intrinsically original about it (meet cute person, undeniable attraction, boyfriend goes out of town…). But Walker and Palmer build sympathetic characters worth rooting for. Also mildly interesting: the fact that the cuckolded suitor is actually a nice guy. Heck, the movie adds puppies to the mix for extra cuteness, and it pains me to acknowledge that it works like a charm.

Unfortunately, the conclusion feels more like an appendix added just to reach feature length. The Choice is also Sparks’ most blatant attempt to shoehorn Christianity into his work. Since subtlety is not his thing, it feels preachy as hell.

Then again, puppies!

2016-02-04