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How does “The Choice” stack up?

Hearing the name Nicholas Sparks makes some people groan and others cheer. Regardless of the mixed reactions he receives, this popular romance author must be doing something right. He has written 18 novels so far, many of which have been high on bestseller lists. Of those novels, 10 have been adapted for the big screen.

His most recent movie adaptation is “The Choice,” a film that follows the unlikely romance of playboy Travis Shaw and medical student Gabby Holland when they become neighbors in a coastal North Carolina town. Their relationship sees a lot of ups and downs, forcing them to make life-altering choices, as the title suggests. After its opening on Feb. 5, one question comes to mind: How does this new movie compare to Sparks’ previous cinematic successes?

First, let’s look at the numbers. The total ticket sales for the opening weekends of Sparks’ other movies range from $10 million to over $30 million, the highest going to “Dear John” in 2010. However, the highest grossing film worldwide is the tear-jerking classic “The Notebook” by a fairly narrow margin. In comparison, “The Choice” made just over $6 million during its opening weekend, putting it firmly at the bottom of the list.

Despite the low ticket sales, this isn’t a bad movie. Benjamin Walker gives an impressive performance as Travis Shaw. Having started off his career as a comedian, Walker brings humorous elements to the character while also portraying the more emotional moments quite effectively. Opposite him, Gabby Holland’s stubborn and passionate nature is highlighted very well by actress Teresa Palmer. Additionally, the movie’s setting contributes quite a bit to the story.  In an opening scene where Travis is out on a boat with his friends, the panoramic shots of North Carolina’s coastline give the movie a relaxing and other worldly feeling.

Where there might be trouble is when this movie is compared to other beloved Sparks classics. The two that are most talked about are “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember,” which each won multiple awards and were praised for their protagonists and believable storylines. Saying that Walker and Palmer have no chemistry in “The Choice” wouldn’t be true.  A prime example of this is the “first date” scene where the pair’s witty banter slowly transforms into a heartfelt, romantic conversation that doesn’t seem at all forced. Still, when held up against the explosive chemistry of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in “The Notebook,” it pales in comparison. Likewise, saying that Walker and Palmer don’t make their characters believable wouldn’t be true either. When compared to the relatable character portrayals by Shane West and Mandy Moore in “A Walk to Remember” though, it once again isn’t as effective.

Another aspect that may have contributed to the lower numbers of “The Choice” could simply be its place in line. Being the 11th Sparks novel set to the screen, audiences have a pretty good idea of what to expect with these movies. The stories usually revolve around an intense, whirlwind romance that is plagued by hardships and tragedy. Already knowing this, movie-goers might not have been so eager to go see this same plot again with different characters.

All things considered, “The Choice” isn’t the best Sparks movie, but it isn’t the worst either. It lands firmly in the middle of the pack.