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The Notebook

February 21, 2013

The Notebook (2004)
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner










Synopsis: An old man (James Garner) in a nursing home, recounts the story of a star-crossed young couple (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) in the 1940s US South, to a woman suffering from dementia (Gena Rowlands).

Review: This highly romantic, epically sentimentalised yarn demands a real sweet tooth from its spectator, and, alas, its gooey confection proved far too much for this reviewer’s discerning palate, at least. Director Nick Cassavetes goes all guns blazing with a style designed to exploit every possible opportunity for pathos in the narrative, so we get multiple horizon and sunset shots, slo-mo sequences of scenic white geese flying across a gorgeous lake, and the two young lovers having their cathartic moment of reconciliation in that classic movie staple of a couple making out in the middle of a rainstorm.

All this would be fine if the story was impeccably crafted – after all, I like nothing more than a guilty slice from the Hollywood hokum cake – but there are simply far too many shortcomings to overlook in the construction of that narrative. To point them all out would be onerous in the extreme, but to list a few pertinent ones: the significance of the framing device (an elderly gent recounting a youthful love story to a senile old woman) is far too obvious; I didn’t quite buy the suddenness with which McAdams’ character falls for Gosling’s boy from the “wrong side of the tracks” (I know the script needs them to fall in love at that moment, but I didn’t quite believe it); and there’s a bizarre sequence that belies the whole emotional pornography of the Nicholas Sparks brand when we cut to a WW2 scene where Gosling’s best friend suddenly dies, only for it never to be mentioned again in the narrative – but I suppose, any attempt, no matter how clumsy, to give Gosling’s character a bit more of a noble, tragic edge is worth a crack?

Perhaps the best element to the film is the repartee between James Garner and Gena Rowlands in the nursing home. Although, as mentioned earlier, the twist about this relationship becomes fairly obvious early on, the idea behind the framing device is endearing, as it nicely problematises the film’s thesis of whether the heady romances of our youths are worth it if they’re only ultimately transient experiences? James Garner in particular lends this dialectic a graceful gravity that perhaps the rest of the film’s more simplistic romanticism doesn’t deserve. (February 2012)

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