Wednesday 16 June 2021

Movie Review: The Notebook (2004)

A romantic drama, The Notebook weaves a lyrical spell with an appealing narrative structure bookending a destined love. Excellent performances and rich cinematography enhance the film's allure.

At a nursing home, the elderly Duke (James Garner) cares for a dementia patient (Gena Rowlands) by reading to her the story of a long-ago romance.

The events he recounts are shown in flashback, starting in the summer of 1940 at the resort community of Seabrook Island, South Carolina. At the carnival grounds, young lumberyard worker Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) is attracted to vacationing rich girl Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) and insists on a date. They eventually fall in love, but with summer ending and Allie's mother Anne (Joan Allen) believing Noah is not good enough for her daughter, the young lovers separate after a bad argument.

Noah heads off to war with his best friend Fin (Kevin Connolly), while Allie volunteers as a nurse and falls in love with recuperating soldier Lon (James Marsden), eventually agreeing to marry him. After the war, Noah embarks on a dream home renovation project with the help of his father Frank (Sam Shepard). Allie and Noah appear destined to remain apart, until she spots a newspaper article and sets out to discover if her first love was true.

An adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks book, The Notebook is well-made old-fashioned storytelling. Directed by Nick Cassavetes with an eye for blazing red skies and picturesque sunsets, the film draws strength from irony-free traditional themes of an everlasting love overcoming all obstacles, while late-in-life physical and mental ailments ensure no shortage of tears.

It's obvious early on that the elderly dementia patient is Allie and Duke is Noah, fanning the flames of their love until the very end. Veterans James Garner and Gena Rowlands bring earnest poise to life's twilight, Allie stranded in a lonely fog having forgotten her life, Noah persisting in sharing their eloquently written history, hoping to spark just a daily moment of remembrance. Combined with the tumultuous travails and separations of their young lives, this is a couple who earned their couplehood.

In the flashback scenes Cassavetes hits all the expected beats of courtship, with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams contributing oodles of young charisma. Noah is from the rougher side of town, she plays hard to get, and they bring refreshing honesty to their feisty bickering. But there is no denying the certainty of their love nor the usual impediments blocking their road to happiness, from disapproving parents to world wars and rival lovers. Despite being apart they never lose sight of each other, in a soulful definition of a union meant to be.

At 124 minutes The Notebook does go on, although writer Jan Sardi has the excuse of delving deep into both the first and final chapters of an enduring bond. Noah and Allie may be two ordinary people, but they also embody the universality of extraordinary love.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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