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THE NOTEBOOK (PG-13) (2004)

New Line Cinema

Official Site

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Producers: Lynn Harris, Mark Johnson

Written by: Jeremy Leven

Cast: Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Garner, James Marsden, Gena Rowlands, Joan Allen, Sam Shepard


In a recent poll conducted by this reviewer, men and women of varying age and economic strata shared their most intimate thoughts with me concerning romance films. Some might say that they bared their souls. To the aforementioned claim, I have no comment. The following samplings, divided by age group, were calculatedly chosen at random.

Individuals under 18:

Max, a 17-year-old Kentucky Fried Chicken employee and high school dropout had this to say: “Yo, I mostly only go if the movie might help me tap dat ass, you know? Woooo!”

Hillary, a 16-year-old unemployed high school junior, had quite a different slant on the genre: “Like, I like seeing happy endings and hot celebs and I like thinking about, like, being in love with hot celebs, and, like, kissing!”

Individuals 19–25:

Tony, a 22-year-old philosophy student, revealed: “It’s interesting for me to observe, with a strictly philosophical eye, how the ideological concept of love is portrayed by the mass-market Hollywood lie-weavers. I mean, what is love? How can that be expressed visually? It’s something you feel, man. Also, if I’m on a date, seeing a romance film greatly increases the likelihood of me tapping dat ass.”

Robin, a 24-year-old dental assistant, stated: “Um, I like to think that they show what the human heart is capable of, that these incredible connections between men and women are possible, that love is real and it’s out there, just waiting for me go and grab it. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know what time ‘American Idol’ starts tonight, would you?”

Individuals 25–40:

Patrick, a 34-year-old investment banker, admitted: “Well, I mean, I prefer those old Schwarzenegger action movies over anything—you ever seen Commando, when he kills that whole island of guys? Man, that was so boss! You won’t find any romance there, man oh man! Don’t get me wrong, bro, I’d sit through Sleepless In Seattle if it meant dat ass was mine to tap.”

Lisa, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mother, divulged: “I see a lot of hope in them—the hope that Charlie will get in a car accident on his way to work one day and Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome will kick down my door and take me away from car payments, grocery shopping, and the kids. Love can come at any time, right?”

Individuals 40 and Over:

Rupert, a 75-year-old widower, confided: “Oh, even back when I was spry those romantic pictures hit the ladies like they’d been shot by Cupid himself. Great fun. I remember, the first time my wife and I—God rest her soul—ever made whoopee was after an Audrey Hepburn matinee. I miss my dearest Maggie. Back then, to borrow an expression my grandson taught me, dat ass of hers was so tappable.”

Constance, a 54-year-old advertising executive, declared: “They’re a joke, a farce, an artificial light in a never-ending tunnel. True romance is dead like fresh air is dead. I never watch them, they only peddle unattainable fantasies to impressionable girls and supply middle-aged women with mannequin dreams. Women should empower themselves, not grow old waiting for Prince Charming—who, incidentally, will never arrive.”

This data—collected at the request of a hallucinatory vision glimpsed while in a coma resulting from not being able to find foods with carbs in them anymore—raised a multitude of hard-hitting questions pertaining to the nature of romance films, of the idealized, Hollywood version of love, of the genre’s true impact upon the genders, of its relevance in today’s post-modernized, reality-entertainment–dominated society. Using The Notebook as a case study, I was determined to gather the answers to queries that I had no particular interest in discovering. Regardless, my mission became crystalline: to produce the world’s first hybridmagazine.com film review/sociological study. By surveying fellow audience members promptly post-screening I intended to retrieve their purest of reactions, their freshest of feelings. Nobel Prize, here I come.

An old man (Garner) reads to an old woman (Rowlands) from a notebook at a nursing home each day. Stricken with dementia, the old woman cannot remember what she’s been read the day before, the contents of the story, or even the identity of its reader. Undaunted by the thankless process and warnings given by doctors that the old woman will never retain the story, the old man continues to routinely orate the narrative of the notebook, about two young lovers in the 1940s, Noah (Gosling) and Allie (McAdams). Seized by love at first sight—a contemporary myth which ranks right up there with ball lightning and spontaneous human combustion—at a carnival, Noah suicidally scales a Ferris wheel with the hopes of impressing Allie enough to acquire a first date. After threatening to loosen his grip and willfully plummet to the carny-laden ground below, Allie acquiesces to his demands (this strategy works—trust me). Soon, the two young lovers are inseparable, kissing like the drowning gasp for air, and licking ice cream off of each other’s faces. All is not well, however, as Allie is an educated rich girl with college in her future, and Noah has already resigned himself to slaving his life away at a lumber mill. Allie’s haughty mother (Allen) disapproves of the lovers’ class-defying infatuation, and promptly ends Allie’s summer of love by moving the family back to their big-city homestead. Seven years pass, and Noah and Allie’s lives have continued apart. Allie is engaged to a respectable Southern gentleman (Marsden), whom her mother very much approves of, and Noah survives a tour in WWII, returning home with the intention of renovating a derelict plantation in which he and Allie shared an awkward and incomplete sexual encounter. Addled with regret and wistful feelings for Noah, Allie excuses herself of all obligations (forthcoming marital ones included) to clandestinely visit Noah at the restored plantation, to test her feelings once and for all. She must, of course, make a choice. And still the old man continues to read, hoping that the story will make the old woman remember.

It must be forthrightly made known that The Notebook (based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same title) is a film so stuffed with sentimentality that you’ll be defecating it for weeks to come. All aspects of the feature are steeped in it: the far-gone setting, the dual romantic narratives, the inclusion of several subplots that go nowhere (including the shortest, least-effective WWII interlude in cinematic history), the director’s (Nick “I used to be a B-movie actor” Cassavetes) decision to cast his mother (Rowlands) as the afflicted elderly woman. It’s as if the filmmakers wished to instill the film with innumerable auxiliary, over-romanticized tropes, in case one or two failed to sink their hooks into the audience. I give Cassavetes credit for trying, but there is a fine line between “trying” and “trying too hard,” which The Notebook sometimes stumbles over. Also of note for all of you cinema elitists out there (you know who you are, wearing black, horn-rimmed glasses, reading this right now; don’t worry, I belong to the club), The Notebook is as conventional as your mom and pop’s lovemaking. Don’t expect any Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind or Punch-Drunk Love-style genre-redefining cleverness and experimentation here. It’s a strictly by-the-numbers, by-the-book love story; it’s missionary-style, for those who like missionary-style.

For those who do like their love served traditionally, The Notebook does what it does exceptionally well. It is a solid, cohesive piece of filmmaking, always eager to showcase the next love-bloomed vista or swell the orchestral soundtrack at the appropriate moment to ensure that no audience member departs the theater with dry eyes. Especial praise must be heaped upon The Notebook’s performers, who make the otherwise tired and clichéd characters of Sparks’ story breathe. Gosling and McAdams, who depict the hackneyed “poor guy meets rich girl” scenario for the twelve bajillionth time, infuse palpable gusto into their archetypal roles. Gosling portrays Noah as intense but vulnerable, with a determined gaze that will melt your girlfriend’s heart and pierce her dreams. McAdams, infinitely more memorable here than as the uber-bitch in Mean Girls, animates Allie with a trickster smile and a female impulsiveness as frustrating as it is true. When these two make out and rip each other’s clothes off onscreen, it looks like they actually want to be making out and ripping each other’s clothes off. Their chemistry is genuine, and provides the film with the basic, compulsory charm lacking in most romantic offerings. Garner and Rowlands are equally convincing as the elderly pair, and majestic in a different sort of way: Their sagging flesh, unsteady hands, and warbled voices illustrate the ruining process that time has on all things. Like the Parthenon, once great and now nothing more than a faded dream of what it was, they endure still. Their visual juxtaposition with Gosling and McAdams is the film’s most affecting asset, a solemn, unstated testament to the notion that, although the body may wither and the mind may fail, some foundations are so strong that not even time may topple them.

And so, as the lights overtook the soft dimness of the theater, and The Notebook’s credits began their ascent, I prepared myself to confront those around me and obtain their immediate opinions of the film. And yet, in those moments when patrons routinely stand and shuffle lemming-like toward the exits, the memories of what they just watched dissolving like smoke exhaled into the air, they sat, and were still, and only the sounds of weeping and sniffling were heard. Eventually, a middle-aged woman sitting near me proclaimed it to be the “best movie” that she’d ever seen. I asked a young woman in front of me what she thought. “I liked it a lot,” she said, with red, hopeful eyes. Her boyfriend quickly responded that “It was a’ight—for a chick flick.” And yet during the movie I watched as he pulled her closer, took her hand, and even removed his baseball cap so that they could quickly kiss. He had been crying too. I could tell. As I quit the auditorium that night, I glanced back at those men and women still rooted to their seats, resolutely wiping tears from their eyes, desultorily watching the last names crawl up the screen and vanish. It occurred to me how relevant this genre is, despite implausible plots, despite smarminess, despite motivational differences between the genders for viewing romance films. There’s no doubt in my mind that the couple in front of me went home feeling mutual, and he tapped that ass, and she wanted him to; that’s what the good ones do, they bring people together.

—Nathan Baran

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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