The Notebook (2004) / Romance-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Joan Allen, Sam Shepard, James Marsden, David Thornton
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Screenplay: Jan Sardi, Jeremy Leven (based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks)
Review published February 23, 2005
I think modern movies have ruined my ability to enjoy a throwback romance like The Notebook. With every other movie sporting some sort of surprise ending, I spent half of the time bemoaning the fact that I knew where the story was headed, and the other half trying to come up with some sort of trick ending, which I was absolutely sure the makers of this film were bound to come up with in order to fool the audience. Wild theories conjured up in my mind of James Garner (Space Cowboys, Twilight) as some sort of geriatric playboy, wooing every elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia in the convalescent care center he resides in with his fanciful stories from his doctored notebook of how they grew up as lovers, strictly for the purposes of bedding them by evening. When morning comes he proceeds his wooing all over again. Fans of this film -- be lucky I'm not the screenwriter!
In actuality, The Notebook is a well-made romantic drama. Not perfect, but if you allow yourself to go with the flow of things, it will definitely deliver for the romantic viewer. It's adapted from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, an author that has been the source of a couple of other old-fashioned romance adaptations in recent years, Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember. Not being one who cared for either of those films, I was a bit hesitant about The Notebook's chances for success.
Luckily, we're in good hands. The adaptation is by Jan Sardi (Love's Brother, Shine) and Jeremy Leven (The Legend of Bagger Vance, Don Juan DeMarco), screenwriters that have both done good work in romantic period pieces before. Director Nick Cassavetes has had some experience as well, with Unhook the Star and She's So Lovely. Perhaps there might be something good to come of this after all.
As the film begins, we see James Garner's character in a home for elderly care, sitting and spending time with a fellow patient, played by Gena Rowlands (Taking Lives, Playing by Heart). He reads to her the story of Noah (Ryan Gosling, Murder by Numbers) and Allie (Rachel McAdams, Mean Girls) from his notebook. Noah was a poor but headstrong young man that managed to win over the heart of Allie, who comes from a well-to-do family. However, with Allie about to leave for college, and with parents that disapprove of her settling for a boy who is clearly beneath her in social status, the two lovers soon part. The next several years are spent apart, with Allie entering a new relationship, and Noah going back to fulfill his dream of restoring an old house on a plantation to the beauty he sees in it. Neither expects to ever see the other again, until one day, Noah's restored home appears in the paper, and Allie is overwhelmed by an urge to see how he has fared.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, you probably will be able to see exactly where the story is headed, and the only thing I wished were done better happens to be the way the the screenwriters pretend that there is a big secret behind the notebook that will be revealed. Perhaps not everyone will catch on (at least that seems to be the hope of the makers of the film), but the way the story is set up had my mind working on funny theories (see the first paragraph above) instead of what I should have been concentrating on the romance.
No surprise, it's a chick flick, so you know we're in for delving into the Kleenex before we're all through, but taking the film on its own terms, it is a respectable entry. The casting is superb, with roles for all, including some very surprisingly appealing performances by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, who do exhibit genuine screen chemistry and spirit that carries their romance into a very plausible happening. That said, perhaps the film is a bit too much on the sexy side, especially in the fairly liberal ideas for acceptable 1940s garb (miniskirts and sexy bathing suits galore), but I suppose creative license was applied in order to spice things up.
The Notebook may have a wide appeal, but it isn't for everyone. If you're the type of person that makes the juvenile finger in your throat gesture whenever you see a man and woman kissing, or if you regularly use words like "dross", "pap", and "treacle" when it comes to any movie that leads by emotion, this film is probably not for you. It's syrupy, sometimes trite, and yet, feels like a breath of fresh air when it works, which it does about 80% of the time.
Oh, and to the guys -- if you're looking for that date flick that will ensure a successful evening, you won't find many that deliver the results that The Notebook does. It's the cinematic equivalent of Spanish fly.
©2005 Vince Leo