Take a young actor whose only notoriety is from playing modern day guys with massively demented anger management issues, add a young actress who has really only shown her chops as a Mean Girl and a Hot Chick, bring them together in 1940's South Carolina, and don’t forget to throw in two old fogies reflecting back at their youth. That, basically, is what The Notebook looks like on paper. Though a cookie cutter “love story” this may be, it still leaves some room for a few surprises to keep the super familiar subject matter just the slightest bit fresh.
Allie (Rachel McAdams) is the rich girl on vacation. Noah (Ryan Gosling) is the hard working, dirt-poor local boy. All it takes is a meeting between the two to blossom some summer lovin’. Shockingly, Allie’s parents do not approve and try to split the two up, seemingly forever. Obviously, we’ve seen this thousands of times before. What makes it work this time are good performances from the leads, and the fact that Notebook’s premise doesn’t take up the entire two hours. In fact, it takes up only the first half hour to forty-five minutes. After Allie’s parents split them up the relationship is over. For seven years the two never cross paths until Noah coincidentally sees her in the street. But before he can open his mouth, he sees she’s living a fine life without him, complete with a smarmy businessman fiancé (James Marsden).
In between the scenes of Noah and Allie are scenes of James Garner reading their story in a nursing home to an elderly woman (Gena Rowlands) slowly losing her memory. Guess what he’s reading the story from...you guessed it, a notebook. These snippets of scenes between Garner and Rowlands are nice and sweet, but the investment in Gosling and McAdams is what makes them pay off in the end. That’s all I’ll say. Marsden does the same thing he’s done in the past two X-Men movies, he’s thrown to the side but does great in the scenes he has. Joan Allen plays Allie’s rich bitchy mother a thorn in the relationship between the two. Played to perfection. Sam Shepard also phones in a charming little performance as Noah’s father. It really seems like he’s just making up everything he’s doing...though it kind of works.
Director Nick Cassavetes, is no stranger in properly tugging heart strings (no pun intended). His last directorial effort had Denzel Washington holding an emergency room hostage in John Q. Unlike John Q, this is not a huge cast of names and character actors. The Notebook instead is a combination of a young and veteran cast mates evenly dispersed throughout. Just like his last flick, Cassavetes lets his actors run free as he tries to hone a visual style that fits. Numerous times do picturesque sunsets and surrounding greenery play as much of a part in the movie as any of the actors. Although he does completely throw away a World War II sequence.
This is where The Notebook starts to dip a bit out of the stereotype. While Allie is away at college Noah and his best friend (Connolly) join up to fight in World War II. Normally that would then take up the rest of the movie, or at least affect the character. The WWII sequence is less then three minutes long and Noah really doesn’t seem that affected from the war. It is said he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, which if you’ve seen Band of Brothers you’d know that was a situation that would stay with you. The only reason the scene was in the flick was to kill off his best friend and grant Noah money from the G.I. Bill to buy a house. It was a wasted plot devise. Unfazed from the war, Noah only starts going downhill after his father dies. There is virtually no mention of the war for the rest of the movie Why was this even here? I hate to see them use World War II as a period crutch.
Bottom line...The Notebook is a chick flick. Not just any kind of chick flick, but the kind of chick flick your parents would like. James Garner is in it, so you should’ve already figured that out by now. If you’re looking for a heart felt, tear jerking romance, then The Notebook is the movie for you. And you probably don’t have a penis. Guys take the initiative and don’t get dragged into this. Instead say that you want to see it and show off your sensitive side, earn some brownie points before you geek out on Spider-Man 2. I’m kidding...but I’m not. Jokes aside, The Notebook is a pretty good movie. It’s a not a masterful cinematic experience, but it does the job. It entertains you for two hours. Occasionally it’s nice to remember that actual photography is a part of filmmaking. Hey, at least it isn’t another summer movie with sucky CG everything.