The Notebook may be considered as the late 80s/early 90s born generation’s Titanic, in the way that it’s universally loved and highly influential. If it weren’t for Cassavetes’ 2004 film, we probably wouldn’t have seen repeat offenders of Nicholas Sparks film adaptations all over the place. The Notebook is about two people (a always brilliant Ryan Gosling and a solid Rachel McAdams) who meet when they are relatively young, fall in love, get separated, see each other again seven years later, and fall in love all over again. The film is gracefully shot, well paced, and all around very lovely. But that’s the thing – the film is too lovely, hitting a breaking point that demeans the excellent acting with making the story absolutely obvious to its demographic. There is little point to this film. All tension from the main story is cut from the narrative style – older versions of the couple reflect on their past in the effectively original and topical (if tension killing, as I said) way of having the older version of Allie (Gena Rowlands! DO. MORE. MOVIES!) have alzheimers and her husband, Noah (James Garner), retelling her their story of how they fell in love. This technique kills pretty much all of the excitement. Romantic films are built on the will they/or won’t they dynamic – when we know they will, then why should we watch? The film should have been about one or another.
My other major problem with the film is late in the plot where Allie meets another man (after the separation between her and Noah) and gets engaged before rekindling her relations with Noah. It’s not the infidelity that bothers me, but the absolute indifference her fiance has towards her going back to him. I was hoping a violent reaction or trying to screw them out of town. But nothing changes. It’s just everyone here is so beautiful and perfectly understanding, even Allie can hold back her jealously for a woman that Noah shared a bed with while “waiting” for her to come back to him. There are two people who step in their way: Allie’s stingy mother (Joan Allen, superb) and her handlebar mustached southern rich man husband (you can tell a mile away that he’s some sort of antagonist). Even though these two split them and keep them split (for seven years, no less), the arc of the story is too dependent on this cliche (she’s rich, he’s not) to push the narrative down the track. It’s too light and fluffy for such seriousness that’s given by the mostly excellent performances given by a perfectly cast ensemble. Ryan Gosling is incredible – he makes his performance effortless. He’s a actor that understands more than any other actor onscreen in The Notebook, the less is more. He takes his time with his scenes, and, aside from a few hiccups, gives one of the best performances of his career. Gena Rowlands, in the brief scenes she’s in, gives a subtle and beautiful performance of a woman who is continually losing herself. She’s a master. We have few actresses like her out in the world and I feel so blessed that to have seen her in this rare performance. Her freak out at the end broke my heart and her final scenes were absolutely perfect. Somebody give her a movie role, please.
Mostly, though, this film feels like a excuse to make as many pretty Southern Romanticism shots as possible. It’s all there – sunny glares in the nature scenes, morning shots of wildlife, spacious mansions of beautiful architecture. Fluff for the sake of fluff. But I can’t say its bad – men love action fluff, women love romance fluff. I get that. It doesn’t excuse it, especially one with a universal love like this one. There could have been more risks made, heck, they’re could have MADE risks. You know what this is by the trailer. Its nothing more, save a phenomenal ensemble working with some pretty weak material. C