The Plot Of Nicholas Sparks’ ‘The Choice’ Recreated With Quotes From Real Reviews

This week promised the release of a brand new Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Choice, starring Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker. I always get excited about the prospect of a new Sparks release, not because I’m going to see it myself, but because they tend to make the best fodder for Plot Recreated with Reviews. Watching a Nicholas Sparks movie is straightforward and kind of dull, but reading film critics, most of whom sound like they’re stifling vomit the entire time, describe a Nicholas Sparks movie, is wonderful.

Incidentally, The Choice didn’t screen for critics here, or, I gather, in a lot of places, which is why this week’s Plot Recreated with Reviews includes quotes from sites you’ve probably never heard of.

Anyway, shall we?

Framing Device

A good-looking couple named Travis (Benjamin Walker) and Gabby (Teresa Palmer) meet cute in a picturesque North Carolina town… (Seattle Times)

…where modern, smartphone-owning characters in the 21st century measure time in “two-and-a-half shakes” and respond to accusations that a single lady is “crushin’ on you” with a fulsome “Hogwash!” (Variety)

It begins, as so many do, with lofty narration. “Now pay attention,” purrs good ol’ boy hero Travis in his Sexy Foghorn Leghorn accent, “because I’m going to tell you the secret to life.” Ready? “It’s all about decisions.” (Metro)

“You see, every path you take leads to another choice … Boy, do I got a choice I gotta make.” (RedEye)

He’s talking about the titular Choice, which won’t crop up until the last half hour. (Metro)

The story is told as a flashback and opens in the present with Travis charging down a hospital hall, flowers in hand, as his voiceover intones on and on. A moment later, he’s crouched at the bedside of a young woman on life support. Clutching her hand, voice weepy and tremulous, he cries out, “Come back to me, bother me.”

The next scene takes place “Seven Years Earlier.” (Film Journal)

Opposites Attract, Eventually

She’s a medical student… (KillerMovieReviews)

…naturally introduced wearing Secret Hot Girl Glasses… (Metro)

newly arrived in what she hopes is a quiet spot where she can study for the boards. (KillerMovieReviews)

He’s a good ol’ country boy… (RedEye)

…a rich, dashing lady’s man, the “catch” of Wilmington/Wrightsville Beach, N.C. And that’s not just because he has the nicest fishing boat. (RogersMovieNation)

Travis throws regular barbecues with a clutch of good-looking buddies, who together resemble a gathering of commercial extras, having recently aged out of Budweiser spots, killing time until Cialis comes calling. (Variety)

A barbecue invitation is strictly casual. Let’s “throw some red meat on the grill, tell a few lies.” (RogersMovieNation)

Fishing, like flirting, is a hobby. All he has to do is turn on that Carolina drawl and even the saltier, Daisy Duke-clad hotties melt. And clean up their language. “You kiss your Mamma with that potty mouth?” (RogersMovieNation)

The Meet Cute

Gabby, who has the waterfront cottage next door to the showplace Travis calls home… (RogersMovieNation)

…is trying to study, while Travis plays his music real loud-like and drinks beer. (Toronto Sun)

Gabby, whose studies and classical music listening are ruined by the party boy and his loud music… (RogersMovieNation)

…storms out of her house demanding that he lower the music. (Film Journal)

She hates the noise, she hates his twangy flirting… (Boston Globe)

Oh, and she’s convinced HIS dog has impregnated hers. (Toronto Sun)

She yells at him. He is smug and condescending. (KillerMovieReviews)

“Could you BE any more obnoxious?”

“You have NO idea.” (RogersMovieNation)

She’s so flabbergasted by this man-child that she even stomps away from him with a loud “ARGH!” (Metro)

But the side-glances in their fake fight tell you all you need to know. (Toronto Sun)

They Don’t Like Each Other At First!

Yep, Gabby and Travis sure bother each other — so obviously it’s true love. (Boston Globe)

Travis’ salty sister (Maggie Grace) wastes no time in telling him, “You’re in trouble.”

Shortly thereafter, Gabby brings her pooch to a local vet, only to discover the vet is none other than Travis… (FilmJournal)

…a second-generation veterinarian, apprentice to the kindly Dr. Shep (Tom Wilkinson)… (National Post)

so kindly he’s even named after a dog. (New York Times)

Who lost his wife many years earlier but grieves for her still (National Post)

…and celebrates her birthday each year. (Film Journal)

There’s also mention of the people who used to own the house next to Travis’s before Gabby moved in; they sound suspiciously like the couple from The Notebook. (National Post)

Travis’s sister Monica announces out loud every step of her brother falling in love. (His line to Gabby, “You bother me,” becomes a callback in the movie around which you could create a drinking game). (Toronto Sun)

But Will Circumstance Keep Them Apart?

The lovers’ only real obstacle, in fact, is that she’s a pill. (New York Times)

Travis, a dad bod waiting to emerge, a slothful, drawling representation of Sparks’s blurred line between charm and harassment… (SlantMagazine)

is committed to his dog and his chair. (MarkReviewsMovies)

Gabby has a doctor boyfriend (Tom Welling). (KillerMovieReviews)

He’s wrong for her, albeit for reasons unknown. He clearly loves and supports her (MarkReviewsMovies)

…but after arguing with Travis, she keeps noticing how very nice he looks without his shirt (KillerMovieReviews)

– abs on which a waiter could grind peppercorns – (Variety)

as he is working on his boat or just hanging out in the yard. (KillerMovieReviews)

Travis, despite the return of his on-again off-again girlfriend (Alexandra Daddario), keeps noticing how attractive Gabby is in the various lightweight summer outfits she sports as she comes and goes from her house. (KillerMovieReviews)

From there, Travis and Gabby’s shared disdain for each other becomes grudging respect becomes mutual attraction. (MarksReviewsMovies)

It’s Love! Cue The Montage!

Truce called, picnic with friends taken when Gabby’s boyfriend conveniently goes out of town on business, and, lo and behold, there’s nooky on the kitchen table… (KillerMovieReviews)

…a scene of unbridled passion, which plays out either as if the characters are having some kind of nervous breakdown or as if the actors are openly mocking the premise of the scene. (MarksReviewsMovies)

A hot and heavy affair ensues, interspersed with lofty discussions about God, purpose and meaning… (FilmJournal)

…and becomes an emotional connection that neither of them can fight. (KillerMovieReviews)

Puppies and beaches, sunsets and sappy dialogue, sugary pop tunes; rain-soaked trysts… (New York Times)

…waterfront dining, dinghy treks to a deserted island after dark… (RogersMovieNation)

…an offbeat proposal scene and moments of tearful yearning. (Boston Globe)

Sun-drenched lusting and canoodling by starlight… (Boston Globe)

…copious cutaways to dogs and puppies (Metro)

An integrated church where the choir sings Joe Cocker’s favorite Dave Mason (Traffic) song, “Feelin’ Alright.” (RogersMovieNation)

Everyone is remarkably attractive, accomplished (yet sensitive), and lives in lovely, well-appointed homes. (Film Journal)

Both keep friends who are prone to sharing, while on yacht excursions around their small coastal town, such observations as “I love boating.” (SlantMagazine)

The romantic leads say a lot of sappy things. (MarkReviewsMovies)

“You remember what you said while holding my hand under the stars?” (Metro)

They won’t stop blathering gooily about choices and decisions and “I believe in the moon.” (Seattle Times)

The actors stumble through such dialogue as “She told me that her head was hurting her heart.” (Seattle Times)

Gabby and Travis’ first hook-up is actually steamy (in a tasteful PG-13 way). It’s even set to The National, which in the Sparks Cinematic Universe is like blasting GG Allin. (Metro)

Sex: It’s strongly implied, but tastefully shot and performed semi-clothed, until the picture fades to black and then dissolves to breakfast on the following day. (National Post)

Palmer and Walker are cute together. Gabby is so cute, she has a tendency to twirl. (Toronto Sun)

Travis’s dog, Moby, should be given his own movie immediately. (New York Times)

When Gabby’s dog gives birth, they are to puppies that appear to be, at a minimum, a month old. (KillerMovieReviews)

“There’s nothing cuter than puppies in a basket.” —Travis (RedEye)

But What About The Coastal Scenery?

The sunlight is forever falling between tree leaves and bouncing off the water as the leads sit on the beach in their swimwear… (National Post)

filmed like an ad for erectile-dysfunction medication. (New York Times)

You can almost hear director Ross Katz telling his cinematographer: “More dapple!” (National Post)

Full moons, starry skies, waves lapping against the shore, and birds in flight (lots of lingering images of birds in flight) (Film Journal)

And sand. There’s always sand.(RogersMovieNation)

But Can They Keep It Together?

Yes, there are complications. Gabby is engaged to rich-boy Ryan (Smallville’s Tom Welling). Ryan is so high up the doctor ladder that he conveniently spends all his time out of town starting new for-profit hospitals. (Toronto Sun)

Travis has aan on-again, off-again thing with his high school sweetheart (Alexandra Daddario). (RedEye)

If there’s anyone else vying for Gabby’s heart, you can rest assured the screenplay will have him sucker-punch Travis or hit Gabby or kick Travis’s dog or do something else that will make us lose all faith in him. (National Post)

A Mysterious Tragedy

Right as our lovebirds seem destined for an eternity of hand-holding and moon-watching, there’s a dumb accident, and the clumsily planted God talk finally pays off. (Metro)

The agonizing decision of the deceptively mundane title is enough to render a theater completely silent. (Boston Globe)

There’s a scene in The Choice, a conversation between a father and a son about a difficult decision (the eponymous one, which, by the way, the son technically doesn’t make). (MarkReviewsMovies)

The father explains the virtues of “broken men” — ones who have encountered significant pain in their lives and just keep on living. (MarkReviewsMovies)

Travis spots his father in the backroom of the pet clinic, discreetly replacing a dead lizard with another, identical-looking live one. Travis calls him out on it, at which point his father offers him a choice: Would he rather walk out into the waiting room and explain to a sweet 10-year-old girl that her beloved pet reptile has bought the farm? Or would he rather err on the side of well-meaning dishonesty, and emerge heroically with the little lizard appearing to have made a miraculous recovery? Travis opts for the latter. (Variety)

A Proposal

In a rare reversal of the Sparks’ genre, Gabby’s parents are not against the romance between their daughter and Travis; instead, they’re almost comically for it. (National Post)

There is a horrifying scene in which her family and friends essentially gang up on her in order to force her acceptance of Travis’ marriage proposal, because, apparently, this smart woman cannot be trusted to make her own decisions about what she wants. (KillerMovieReviews)

During the scene, her protestations to the idea are ignored by everyone in the room. It doesn’t matter what she says. This guy, despite his numerous flaws, and his wishes are what really matter. He knows best what’s good and right for her, and she had better get on board with that fact. (MarkReviewsMovies)

In the wake of Gabby’s eventual confession and, later, a jarring emergency, Travis and the jilted doc have to navigate some awkwardly shared emotional space. (Boston Globe)

“Running Through The Airport”

Later, when the two seem to be parted forever, one character — the annoyingly all-knowing sister (Maggie Grace) — tells Travis he should just go profess his love now, rather than wait 10 years, like those fools in other Sparks movies (like his most hallowed number, “The Notebook”), who are too stupid to reunite before it’s too late. (Metro)

And no, there is no scene at the airport where someone begs someone to stay. But there is a drive across state lines with a similar agenda. (Toronto Sun)

It’s not until the final act, when we learn the identity of the woman Travis is visiting in the hospital, that any significant stakes are raised, and it’s here that the film stumbles most spectacularly. It would be impossible to explain exactly how craven the ending is without spoiling it completely. (Variety)

And just to retain the Sparks love-is-for-life message, the scriptwriter beefs up a relatively minor character in the book – Travis’s veterinarian dad (ahem) Dr. Shep – and gives him his own widower-who-finds-love-again subplot. (Toronto Sun)

The only trouble with this method is that it’s hard to find critics who spoil the final act. I think the lizards were a metaphor? At this point, I’ve done enough of these that I think I could write my own Nicholas Sparks story. All you need is a well-to-do city girl who’s kind of stuck up, about to go off and do some stuck-up city girl thing, like get a medical degree or move to New York on a ballet scholarship, or prepare to live an independent life somehow. She has to meet some kind of blue collar handsome guy, an ex-Marine, or a guy who restores toy trains or something, who gets shirtless and makes the heroine wonder whether she really wants to get all stuck up and citified when she could just hang out with shirtless Joe. They bond in some kind of weird animal sequence, like delivering a donkey baby or protecting a nest of sea turtle eggs from a raccoon (that part’s always my favorite). Somewhere in there are some glib family members who can always tell when their relations are in love. “Darlene! Your ear lobes are a-blushin’!”

Also, they’ll probably both already have girlfriends or boyfriends or fiancees. The man will either be a rich dick who doesn’t care about the girl, abusive, or both, so that when the heroine ditches him, it won’t be a hard decision or make the audience feel too bad or have to empathize too much. There will be a montage of ridiculous love scenes where the two leads act like they’re in an L.L. Bean catalogue (my second favorite part, behind the proverbial sea turtle egg rescue), but just when it’s about to work out, someone’s going to get cancer or go off to war or have a relative die or become impotent in a car crash. Some old people mentioned previously only as part of a framing device will be revealed, to explain lifelong love, yearning, and/or heartbreak. Think kindly widow/widower. The hero/heroine will come to realize that it’s silly to let cancer or impotence or sea turtles get in the way of true love and rush off to meet his/her destiny, which involves forgetting about your stuck-up city life and staying in North Carolina to bathe cats and pet horses and restore small boats at your family’s Spanish moss cabin.

It’s not so much that it’s formulaic, but how hilariously specific the formula is. Nicholas Sparks strikes me as a guy who never got over his high school friends ditching him to go off to college.

[New York Times, Seattle Times, Boston Globe, Toronto Sun, National Post, Metro, RedEye, RogersMovieNation, Slant]

Vince Mancini is a writer, comedian, and podcaster. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.