Friday, 5 February 2016

The Choice (2016) - Movie Review

Like an irritating rash on the collective backside of cinema, Nicholas Sparks always comes back. For some mind-numbingly stupid reason, that I can assume involves some form of green paper, we’ve gone from getting only one adaptation every few years to getting one every year. The fact that two more of these fit within my purview for reviewing only makes that feel worse. I’ve discussed a couple of these on here before, like the head-on collision between hackneyed platitudes about destiny and accidental Freudianism that was The Best Of Me or the bordering-on-parody schlock of The Longest Ride. Given how I haven’t taken the time to check out his one ‘good’ work with The Notebook, I am once again at the point where I can only hope for unintentional comedy as my source of joy for this nearly two-hour piece of work.

The plot: It’s the same as every other Sparks adaptation. Young couple Travis (Benjamin Walker) and Gabby (Teresa Palmer) meet, fall in love despite all the clear warning signs that they shouldn’t, and are brought further together with the help of an older man, this time in the form of local vet Dr. Shep (Tom Wilkinson).

Well, since I’m already at the point of dreading this film thanks to that one magic name attached to it, let’s see if there’s anyone else involved here that can even things out. Well, Walker’s last film had him comparing sizes with Thor for most of their scenes together and his turn as the titular character in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter didn’t impress all that much either. Here, he sure does a lot of jawing, as does most of the cast, and he really doesn’t fit here as the romantic lead. Honestly, he comes across more like someone Thomas Harris would write and his weaksauce Southern charm doesn’t ease that serial killer vibe either. Opposite him is Palmer, who is quickly turning into yet another Sentient Red Flag; Goddammit, I don’t want to keep seeing Australian actors become known for picking shitty scripts! Anyway, her last notable romantic role in Warm Bodies, quite possibly one of the worst zombie movies I’ve seen, should be a good enough indicator of how well she does here. That, and she can’t do a convincing Southern accent.

There are a few other actors that I recognised, like Maggie Grace’s hypnotising eyes from San Andreas as Travis’ sister and Tom Welling from Smallville as the disposable love interest, a casting decision that kept distracting me throughout the film given how he kind of disappeared after that show. However, the only one who could even be bothered to try acting here is Wilkinson. While I lament once again having to see him in a film that certainly doesn’t deserve him, credit where it’s due in that he is at least trying here… by comparison, at least. He isn’t exactly at his best here, but he still made for the best part of the movie. That is, the only good part of the movie.

Actually, that’s something that keeps cropping up in these adaptations: The old guy who mentors the main couple being played by the best actor in the cast. Well, might as well see how this compares to the other N.S. films I’ve reviewed on here. In that regard, it’s easily the blandest out of all of them. The Best Of Me was trite, but it at least had a consistent theme of triteness that it sustained for the whole film. The Longest Ride was bad as a drama, but did decently as a comedy from the other side. This film, for about 90% of its running time, is just rom-com clich├ęs ticked off one-by-one, combined with characterisation that makes it feel like this was made for sociopaths. Not to say that a sociopathic romance can’t work on film; hell, Being John Malkovich is an amazing film. I’m just saying that, in a film that is this PG-rated, I shouldn’t be thinking that Travis’ island that he takes Gabby to is where she might end up buried. Then again, me believing that he has even that much of a personality is a tall ask for a film like this, where the majority of the film’s events feel like it should have ended several minutes earlier every single minute. Seriously, the utter lack of resolution or feeling of progression would make even Terrence Malick blush.

But, as I said, that’s for only 90% of the overall production. The remaining 10%, on the other hand, seem to be tailor-made to engage the audience by whatever means possible, even if it has to resort to flat-out idiocy to pull it off. Early on, there’s a scene with Shep lying to a 10-year-old girl that her pet lizard recovered when it actually died by just replacing the lizard. Now, in a vacuum, this scene is yet another attempt on the film’s part to be funny and/or charming with Travis arguing that, you know, lying to children about death isn’t exactly the most Hippocratic thing to do. I mean, isn’t dealing with the concept of death why most kids get pet goldfish in the first place? However, this scene takes a far worse connotation when it is put into the context of the rest of the film, which means *SPOILERS* that I once again hope you won’t care too much about.

When the film finally gets around the titular Choice, which is about an hour and a half in, it results in Travis needing to decide whether or not to sign a Do Not Resuscitate form. This is after Gabby ends up in the most sanitised car crash ever, where broken glass hits her right in the face and yet she doesn’t have a single scratch on her. Hell, the entire crash could’ve easily been avoided if Travis took time out to make a single phone call or even a text to her. Anyway, Travis does some soul-searching, including faking out the audience by talking to her mother’s grave and the film tries to trick us into thinking it’s Gabby’s... I’d tell this movie to go fuck itself right there and then, but it only gets worse from here. Long story short, she ends up making a miraculous recovery then they resume their life as if nothing had happened. Mainly because nothing bad has happened, nor would it ever in a story like this.

Let’s start with the basics as to why this is so bloody stupid. This essentially means that the title of the film, the main drama that the filmmakers kept spinning their wheels getting to, ultimately meant nothing. Travis didn’t have to make any tough decisions, or any decisions at all come to think of it, and everyone gets a saccharine resolution at the end. However, this ending is symptomatic of something a lot worse; something that hangs over the head of the term ‘chick flick’ like a knife that everyone is just waiting to drop on its head. Not only does this makes-it-easy ending feel a lot like the resolution of Ira’s character from The Longest Ride, it is the mindset that runs through a lot of these types of films. Hell, aside from Sparks’ mutant offspring, there was also last year’s woeful Miss You Already that had a similar problem: Obscuring the harshness of reality behind picture-perfect relationships and events because the predominantly female audience supposedly can’t handle harsh.

This sickeningly sexist writing style is the same kind of talking-down-to BS that plagues a lot of children’s films, and in both cases the evidence quite clearly suggests something different to what is being offered. Am I saying that films have to be completely realistic? I think my previous reasoning that these are works of fiction and not biography, and therefore should be viewed as such, should clear that one right up. What I’m saying is that this brand of wish-fulfilment, one that prefers completely ignoring the stone cold truth in favour of using the medium to convey anything with actual emotional merit, is poisonous. It is a cycle of behaviour on the part of filmmakers and creators, including Sparks, that ends up with everyone being treated like ‘innocent’ children, not yet ready to handle the fact that death and taxes are real and you will come across them in life eventually. In fact, of all the examples I’ve come across so far, this might be the worst offender in that regard. As much as I hated Miss You Already, that at least had the courtesy to actually admit that the character died; it clearly didn’t want to but it still did. Here, all we get is yet another iteration of the makes-it-easy wrap-up that will just continue to breed misconceptions about relationships and life as a whole that will only make things worse. If this reads like a lot of bitching for a film’s ending, then understand just how much nothing takes place around it; that, and this is a legitimate point of concern given how these movies keep getting made.

All in all, this is yet another Sparks adaptation, only this might actually be the worst offender so far. Sure, it carries the same lack of chemistry and lame writing that plagues the others, and that also includes the conclusion that is so mind-crushingly obvious that you spend most of the film hoping in vain that the film isn’t really that stupid. Except here, said conclusion encapsulates anything and everything wrong with the label of ‘chick flick’ and the films that it usually gets slapped on, resulting in a film that is actually pretty friggin’ hazardous at its core.

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