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The Notebook
2004 - PG-13 - 121 Mins.
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Producer: Toby Emmerich
Written By: Nicholas Sparks
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, James Marsden, Joan Allen, Sam Shepard
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.thenotebookmovie.com
   

Sexy suds scene that's not in the movie! :-(
An elderly man reads every night to his wife who is suffering from paranoid dementia in the hopes that she'll remember their past and their great love. That's the story of 'The Notebook', a new film based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks who also penned 'A Walk to Remember' and 'A Message in a Bottle."

With a fabulous cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Joan Allen, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Sam Shephard and James Marsden, 'The Notebook' is a 3-hankie weepie, told in lengthy flashbacks so that the elderly couple (Garner and Rowlands) can recall their life and love.

'The Notebook' is a gorgeous-looking period film set in a small Southern town but in spite of the cast and the production values, what could have been a great and memorable film ends up being a glossy Lifetime/Oxygen TV movie because of pedestrian direction, choppy editing choices and a minimalist soundtrack.

Story-wise, 'The Notebook' is set-up as a love triangle. Rich girl, Allie (McAdams most recently seen as the meanest girl in 'Mean Girls') has to pick between poor boy Noah (Gosling, the intense young actor from 'The Believer' and 'The United States of Leland') and handsome stockbroker Lonnie (Marsden - 'X-Men'). Noah was her first love but her mother (icy Joan Allen) warns her against falling in love with "trash." It doesn't take long before Allie's parents pack her up to go away to college in New York.

There, Allie encounters Lonnie, a suave young man lying wounded in an army hospital where she is volunteering as a nurse. Once he's up and about, Lonnie is squiring Allie to the Cotton Club, dancing to Cab Calloway and drinking champagne.

When the war breaks out, Noah joins the Army and ships off to fight in Europe. He returns to refurbish an old mansion in his hometown, still harboring a bitterness over losing Allie. When Allie sees a photo of Noah and his renovation work in the newspaper, she runs off to see him and to see if their summer love was real or not. Will she go home to her fiance? Or will she stay with moody Noah?

Even though the movie is 2 hours long, the book itself is a thin one-night read so it's amazingly disappointing at how director Nick Cassavetes (son of Gena Rowlands) managed to make much of the movie feel truncated. Though we see how Allie and Noah's love first ignites, what's missing is the third part of this triangle as Marsden gets precious little screen time. World War 2 is abbreviated into 3 quick cuts - a gratuitous shot of Gosling standing in a medical exam, an unintentionally funny shot of him hunched over a dead friend in the snow, and a shot of him returning in uniform to his little country town.

At the heart of the film is Rachel McAdams' performance and she is radiant and sexy as the hot-spirited Allie dressed in flattering 1940s outfits. Reminiscent of Jennifer Garner's perkiness, McAdams portrays Allie as a young woman eager to break free from her parent's rules and her upper class restrictions.

Gosling, who is best known for playing sharply drawn characters, is very charismatic in his first romantic lead role creating a slightly goofy Noah as he charms and woos the initially aloof Allie, and broods when faced with blatant class discrimination. Gosling's trademark fiery shows up at a pivotal scene when he declares that their love is "still not over." It's the preamble to a love scene that pushes the PG-13 boundaries with skin but is photographed like a softly lit Harlequinn romance with lots of blonde hair (his and her) flinging about the pillows in slow motion.

Framing these flashbacks in present day, we have James Garner reading from 'the notebook' to an elderly Allie. It wouldn't be much of a spoiler to reveal if Garner is the older Noah or Lonnie but why cast Garner if he doesn't look like either? (I had my own idea of a suprise ending but was told that would have been warped.) Having read 'The Notebook', the movie takes liberties with these scenes, perhaps expanding the roles of the elderly couple so that they have more to do than just be the narration to the flashbacks.

What's most irritating about 'The Notebook' is the missing dramatic energy and the missing scenes. Love triangles are always interesting if they are balanced and the audience feels emotionally torn as well. But the way this movie was assembled seemed to be counterproductive to the actors' performances. Cassavetes is preoccupied with capturing the look of the 1940s and the languidness of a summer in the South. Thanks to poor editing, there are blatantly missing scenes - noticeable when a character refers to conversation or events that were not in the movie. The studio obviously ordered that the 'The Notebook' couldn't run over 2 hours.

Another missing element from a good studio romance is a cohesive soundtrack where strong musical themes can trigger emotional responses. Who can forget the music of other weepies like 'Titanic', 'Sophie's Choice' or 'Gone With the Wind' or 'Somewhere in Time'? The John Williams school of movie soundtracks clearly states that each character gets a musical theme and a love theme. That's the audience's cue to cry or sigh.

Still, 'The Notebook' is a nice bit of summer counter-programming, a relaxing romance when you don't feel like watching aliens, tornadoes or robots and a zillion special effects. And as if to tantalize, the press kit itself contained numerous stills of scenes that were not in the movie. Maybe they'll be restored on DVD but 'The Notebook' as released feels more like 'The Cliff Notes'.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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