Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.
Release Date: June 25th, 2004 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Nick Cassavetes Actors: James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Kevin Connolly, Sam Shepard, Joan Allen, James Marsden, Traci Dinwiddie, Heather Wahlquist
t once a surprisingly beautiful love story and a tear-jerking tragedy (in the same vein as “Romeo and Juliet”), Nick Cassavetes’ “The Notebook” is ultimately torn between two inadvertently distant storylines. Adapted by Jan Sardi from Nicholas Sparks’ novel (with a screenplay by Jeremy Leven), a cinematic romance this poignant and passionate pops up in Hollywood so very rarely. Unfortunately, by including a secondary narrative – that of the central couple living out the end of their lives – a focal separation occurs that can’t be made cohesive. Although each piece is meant to complement the other smoothly, “The Notebook” could have stood alone with just the performances of Gosling and McAdams, despite the familiarity of such a Shakespearean-minded plot.
Starting in the 1940s, Noah (Ryan Gosling) falls in love (at first sight) with Allie (Rachel McAdams), confidently pursuing her despite her disapproval. Soon, the two are madly in love, but Allie’s parents don’t want their daughter to marry a poor country boy (like so many formulas for class clashes and youthful social rebellion). Allie initially doesn’t see herself as a perfect match for Noah, either: she is strict, proper, organized, and ambitious, whereas Noah is carefree, reckless, and free-spirited. When Allie’s mother decides to uproot the family solely to prevent the star-crossed lovers from staying together, the couple fear they may never see each other again. But through the perils of war, a lengthy disseverance, and even other romances sprouting up between chance reuniting, true love seems destined to prevail.
Noah and Allie’s story is told to the audience through a man named Duke (James Garner) as he recites from his notebook to an elderly, nearly-vegetative woman (Gena Rowlands), who is cared for in a nursing home. She also suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting many of the passages reiterated to her, but Duke continues to read, seldom leaving her side. Their interactions compose the overarching and bookending storyline, which, though touching, feels distant and interrupts the immediacy and intrigue of the younger characters’ tale.
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams turn in genuine, heartfelt performances worthy of the many classic romances from which the plot borrows (“Gone with the Wind,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “The Magnificent Ambersons” all lend specific components). Family and affluence always get in the way, but love shortens the distances and forgives the differences. Where “The Notebook” most succeeds is in the stirring way that Noah and Allie’s story unfolds: first, in their improbable union, and later, in the intervention of fate, by which they are brought back together on shaky terms. Where the film falters is in every sequence that jarringly removes viewers from these two characters’ mesmerizing interactions. It’s purposeful for the big reveal (a twist few are unaware of), but distracting to have the alluring young couple’s story broken up with scenes of narration by unknown, underdeveloped counterparts.
But perhaps the most disappointing segment is the out-of-place sex scene. In the earlier years of Hollywood, romance was depicted as an all-consuming, entrancing friendship that couldn’t be expressed in an overly physical fashion. Here, “The Notebook’s” love story is so appealing as a take on a classic template that Noah and Allie’s eventual physical culmination cheats the old-fashioned purity built up during the first half. As a modern film, this isn’t exactly unexpected (the picture still only garnered a PG-13 rating), but it truly feels unnecessary.
Ultimately torn between two storylines, one of which vastly outshines the other, “The Notebook” is still an impressive production, relying on an emotionally bent sensibility and powerful performances to gloss over its stock roots. It’s charming, easily likeable, and full of significant, snapshot moments. And its cry-inducing, weepy bits aren’t as annoyingly manipulative as in other recent attempts, letting the sentimentality last longer than the roll of the end credits.
– Mike Massie