The Choice (2016)
Director: Ross Katz
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Benjamin Walker & Alexandra Dedario
Plot: Travis and Gabby first meet as neighbours in a small coastal town and wind up in a relationship that is tested by life’s most defining events.
When a friend of mine decided to put on ‘The Choice’ one evening, we were barely ten seconds in before I turned around and said: “This is a Nicolas Sparks movie; isn’t it?”. I think anyone who’d seen a film based on one of his books could spot the signature a mile away. The Choice opens similarly to what is probably one of Sparks’s most notable stories, ‘The Notebook’: a large expanse of open water and a boat. Of course, this time we get some deep and meaningful words of wisdom by Benjamin Walker’s character Travis. But, the comparisons do not end there. They don’t even end with the constant shots of birds in flight, or with the storyline centred around the tragedy of two somewhat Shakespearean star-crossed lovers.
Following scenic shots of the sunlight reflecting on the water and the formation of birds taking to the air, the opening scenes are accompanied by music that’s filled with just a hint of drama that lets you know this one is going to be a tear-jerker. Again, with heavy similarities to The Notebook, our dramatic opening is followed by a vague hospital scene, where we meet our male lead, only to be left in the dark about what’s going on, who is who and how everything is going to fit together. Then, cue the somewhat trademarked flashback where the real story starts.
Here, we meet our leading female Gabby, played by Theresa Palmer, who, in true Sparks fashion, holds an immediate dislike of protagonist Travis. But, through his use of southern charm, a series of quirky encounters and one knocked up Golden Retriever, Theresa’s dislike turns into passion and leads to a steamy encounter where our lovable leading lady seems to forget she’s got a boyfriend kicking about just the other side of the river. Of course, we already know how it’s going to turn out: a swift yet sorrowful break-up with her current partner. Engagement. Marriage. Children. A happy ending.
By this point, I had been enjoying the film. It had a pleasant pace, quirky characters and a somewhat adorable love story. But then the movie took a different route and, for me, this scene makes the whole movie. Gabby is waiting alone at a restaurant while Travis is running late from work after dealing with a feline emergency. It’s late and there’s heavy rain thundering to the ground. But, as Travis calls her to tell her he is on his way, Gabby tires of waiting and, dismayed, gets in her car to drive home. Immediately there’s a sense of something different in the air: it’s darker than what we’ve seen so far, juxtaposing the otherwise bright and light movie – the red hues implying a new threat. Whallop. Car crash.
When the car hits, you see it coming yet you’re still surprised, and as the red glow starts taking over the scene, everything moves in slow motion. Splintered glass rains through the air as spine chilling music plays; Gabby’s body is launched through the car and her phone shatters against the dashboard as the music reaches its climax and the screen goes black. It’s the longest blackout throughout the entire movie, and it causes such a surge of emotion you find yourself anguishing over what happens next. The whole scene was so beautifully tragic it gave me chills.
From here the story reaches its second arc where Travis is faced with the difficult choice of whether he should turn off his wife’s life support machine when the time comes to decide. Whilst the movie began with scenes of rich colour, parties and laughter, we are now presented with washed out shades of Blue and Grey. Even flashbacks of earlier scenes are now awash with these dim colours. The second part of the movie seems to follow a slower pace, with Travis often alone, agonising over his decision and the route his life is now taking. At this point the scenes become more simplistic, focusing on close up shots of calming and quiet, some would say isolated, images such as a solitary bird or close ups of grass in the breeze. Even when a hurricane hits we are left feeling no different. However, all of this allows for a dramatic climax near the end of the movie. Whilst Travis is sitting under the gazebo he recently constructed for Gabby, the music receives a sudden change in tempo, a shell wind chime (a recurring object in the movie) beings to rattle violently in the wind and there is a sudden sense of panic. Transitioning from a series of peaceful, though sad, scenes to Travis racing back the hospital only to arrive upon weeping nurses, accompanied by the dramatically increasing soundtrack has audience fearing the worst.
Scenes such as this and the dramatic car crash scene, I feel, are what makes the movie a success, despite all of its now typical Sparks-isms. Of course, the chemistry between the characters – which I consider to be one of the movie’s stronger points – definitely helped. Furthermore, the movie, follows a nice and pleasing pace with pleasant ideas and, despite it’s hard hitting topic, is full off humorous encounters which makes ‘The Choice’ a successful romantic drama. Perhaps Sparks’ stories are becoming a little predictable and maybe the strong sense of déjà vu does detract from the films overall success but, in terms of the genre itself, this is an enjoyable film to watch and I would recommend it to anyone else interested in Sparks or, indeed, the romantic drama genre. Just have your tissues ready.