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Review: “The Notebook”

The NotebookDirected by: Nick Cassavetes
Produced by: Lynn Harris, Mark Johnson; Toby Emmerich, Avram Butch Kaplan (executive)
Written by: Jeremy Leven (screenplay); Jan Sardi (adaptation)
Edited by: Alan Heim
Cinematography by: Robert Fraisse
Music by: Aaron Zigman
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Joan Allen, James Marsden, Jamie Brown, Sam Shepard, David Thornton, Kevin Connolly
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Year: 2001

 

Nicholas Sparks adaptations have become something like an annual event, it seems. Sure, it’s not actually true, but it feels true, what with all the films attempting to cash in on this film’s success as a tear-jerking romance novel adaptation. It all started with Message in a Bottle in 1999, and then there was the Mandy Moore film A Walk to Remember in 2002. The biggest film in this series of cloying romantic fantasies, though, seems to be The Notebook, a film that even romantic movie haters had at one point or another assured me is actually “a pretty decent movie.”

Now, I admit that I had basically pecked out portions of story from this film based on scenes I had caught glimpses of while on various trips back home, mostly when my oldest stepsister was still living at home. There were probably two or three good efforts thrown in there, too, of me actually trying to honestly follow the film with them before something else caught my attention and I wound up not following through with it. When I started Girly Movie Month this month, however, I knew that this would ultimately have to be reviewed, being basically the girly movie that comes to my mind when I think of the term “girly movie.”

Having finally seen the film all the way through in one sitting, I feel as though I can honestly sit down with anyone who may have told me in the past that this was actually a “decent” film and tell them to their faces: “You are so full of it.”

The Notebook - Noah and Allie

Okay, yeah, maybe not so bluntly, but, man, The Notebook felt like two hours of watching Rachel McAdams playing a rich, pretty girl, Allie, who is making up her mind about the poor blue collar romantic, Noah, played by Ryan Gosling. As she makes up her mind, Noah basically sits on the sidelines, sulking in her absence and rebuilding the home he hoped to live with her in as she’s off entertaining the thought of marrying some other poor guy who gets injured in the war and develops a case of reverse Florence Nightingale syndrome before ultimately proposing to her. Both men apparently served in World War II, though this is quickly glossed over in about a minute of screen time – WWII is just a quick narrative device here to remind people of what era the film takes place in and put some distance between the two leads. Any wounds and losses the two suffered in combat likely couldn’t compare to the anguish this girl puts them through, though. At least the Nazis were expected to shoot at them. Allie is kind of a selfish backstabber, which isn’t to say that the mopey Noah isn’t at fault either, as he fools around with a war widow who is apparently a very understanding person when it comes to old flames being rekindled.

Notebook

Basically, The Notebook is like watching hyper-sentimental, pretty-looking emotional porn for girls who want the luxury of being made to feel special by the perfect guy but also feel like they’re in control of him, too. It’s as if the movie takes place in some kind of surreal fantasy where a girl and her family can crap on the guy she likes, and yet she’s still perfectly justified in her actions. I’m all for flawed heroes, but I also expect the film to show consequences. When she finally makes up her mind about who to be with, having already taken advantage of all that the two men give her in the process, the film basically has her make the decision and then just drops that character entirely because he no longer serves as a plot device – kinda like with Noah and Allie’s two friends and both of their fathers, come to think of it.

The film has a parallel story which also serves as a framing device for the period piece romance of the two young lovers: that of an elderly couple in a modern nursing home. The woman in this relationship, played by Gena Rowlands, is elegant and wears expensive jewelry, but she is suffering from Hollywood dementia, which comes and goes in various forms as the filmmakers please. Her guy friend, played by James Garner, meets with her every day to read from the book in which the younger couple’s story plays out. Doctors tell him that dementia is irreversible, and that she won’t remember a thing by the time tomorrow comes. That doesn’t matter, he says, as he’s hoping for a miracle. And so he continues to read to her from the book in the hopes that this will help her come back to him.

The Notebook - James Garner and Gena Rowlands

… Must I post a spoiler alert here? The film comes with a twist that’s so telegraphed, I wasn’t entirely convinced that what I was perceiving to be a twist was actually intended to be one. But no, it was. So, yeah, here’s your spoiler alert!

… Ready to hear it? … Okay… The two couples are actually the same couple! WOW! Isn’t your mind blown? Shocking, I know!

Chances are if you were paying attention to the rather large hints dropped throughout, this was all figured out well ahead of the late game revelation, when the elderly Allie suddenly realizes over a candlelit dinner that they are the Allie and Noah from the book. Rather than adding a bit of nuance to the story, this results in the already rambling movie feel even more convoluted and poorly planned. How much more simple and meaningful could it have been if the real life story of the elderly couple contrasted with that of the romance novel, showing the differences and similarities between fantasy romance and true, realistic love?

The Notebook - Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling

The film isn’t that smart. And it treats its audience as not being too smart, too, right down to the eye-rolling conclusion in which the elderly couple apparently will themselves into the great beyond, where they are apparently reincarnated as birds – a callback to one of the film’s more eye-rolling scenes, and the one time in the film where the audience is asked to recall something that came before rather than just go for the ride.

Despite the admittedly strong performances from its four leads, they can only do so much with the material they’ve been given. Their characters are really nothing more than generic character templates. The Notebook is hardly transcendent material. This is the stereotypical romance story. I get that I’m not its target demographic, but I’d like to think that I could appreciate a good story on its own merits, regardless, and it’s not like all girls are necessarily letting the film get the better of them, either, as I’ve thankfully heard from plenty of girls who recognize the film for the generic romance schlock that it is.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1.5 / 5

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  1. May 7, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Ouch! I’m a sucker for romance films, even though I know I’m being manipulated beyond belief. They give girls such stupid and unrealistic expectations, but I still hope that I’ll be in the tiny minority who will be swept off their feet. Dirty Dancing is a particular favourite.

    I quite like The Notebook, purely because of its unashamed ‘romantic’ cheese. You’re right in everything that you say though! It is pretty cringey at times, and Allie is annoying.

    I love the fact that you decided to have a Girly Movie Month by the way. I know I’m a complete sucker for them, but I lap it up!

    • CJ Stewart
      May 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Ha! You know, everyone has their guilty pleasures. You’re going to LOVE my next review if you like Dirty Dancing… (Hint: It’s Dirty Dancing.)

      This Girly Movie Month thing seems to be relatively popular, at least among the people who follow my posts on my personal Facebook. I’m glad to hear others are enjoying it! I’m planning on doing something similar for June / Father’s Day, but I’m trying to come up with some other angle than Manly Movie Month just ’cause I’m more inclined to review “manly” movies than “girly” ones. … Truth be told, however, I’m probably just going to go with Manly Movie Month anyway. LOL

      • May 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

        Sounds good! My movie knowledge is shocking. I’ve never seen The Shawshank Redemption or It’s A Wonderful Life to name just 2, so I have no right to pass comment!

        Maybe a Classic Films month? Like Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind etc. Then I can just read your reviews and pretend I’ve seen them.

      • CJ Stewart
        May 8, 2013 at 10:55 pm

        That’s a good idea for probably some other month, but I’m trying to think of something that relates to my stepfather, same as how Girly Movie Month was inspired by my mom’s recent request that I wait to get her a cup that had the pink flowers, not the red ones. LOL

        I wouldn’t worry about the not seeing certain classics. I only a couple weeks ago saw “Taxi Driver” for the first time, and I have honestly never seen “Gone With the Wind” all the way through. It sat in my Netflix instant queue for a while and then did as its title says.

  1. May 9, 2013 at 1:30 am
  2. May 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm

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