Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Princess Bride Without The Fantasy; Nothing Noteworthy Written In This Romantic Drama

The Good: Decent acting, Resolution, Moments of character
The Bad: Most of the character progression is obvious, Plot is very predictable
The Basics: In a predictable disappointment of a romantic drama, a senior citizen tells another senior a story of young love throughout a significant day.

[Note: This was originally written before Rachel McAdams had her big break into mainstream pop culture. Enjoy!]

When I watched The Lake House (reviewed here!) and was pleasantly surprised, my mother instantly recommended The Notebook, which she claimed was 1,000,000 times better. She then thrust her copy upon me and sent me on my way. After a few days of letting it sit around, I noticed that Rachel McAdams was in The Notebook. McAdams was in Red Eye and I had been excited to learn that she was in talks to play the female lead in the film version of The Time Traveler's Wife (reviewed here!), which was the best book I've read in a while. So, I sat down to watch The Notebook as my own casting check to see if McAdams would live up to my idea of Claire Abshire and because my mother so thoroughly endorsed this film. I'm not allowed to borrow any more of her DVDs, she says, because my reaction to the film was to shrug and say "meh."

Duke is a senior citizen living in an assisted living facility. He wanders down the hall to the room of Allie Calhoun, sits down and begins reading to her. Duke begins to tell her the story of Noah and how he met, fell in love with and won the heart of a young woman named Allie. As the elder Calhoun listens to the story, she becomes engrossed by the ups and downs in the relationship between Noah and Allie. Duke tells her about how Allie's parents disapproved of their summer romance, Allie left Noah brokenhearted and how they went their separate ways. Of course, fate throws Noah and Allie back together before Allie married a man who her parents do approve of and Calhoun is completely enchanted by Duke's story.

The Notebook is based upon a novel by Nicholas Sparks and I've not read the book and this is not a review of the book. What appeared on screen was one of the most predictable, unremarkable romances I've ever seen. The Notebook is framed like The Princess Bride, but it has none of that movie's charm or character. Instead, everything falls along remarkably predictable lines.

I'll hide an insult in a compliment now; part of the reason the movie fails from one of the first frames is the fault of actress Gena Rowlands. Rowlands plays Allie Calhoun and from the moment she first appears on screen, its obvious that she is suffering from an age-related memory condition. Rowlands plays Calhoun with a detachment in the eyes that is instantly noticeable and she is emoting through minimalist actions through the entire movie. Long before we are told what she suffers from, Rowland is effectively portraying it. The Notebook, then is effectively showing the audience what it wants to convey, so much so that the plot then becomes cheap.

What I mean by that is simple; Rowlands is so effectively emoting and presenting a woman whose mental state is in decline that the viewer instantly gets it. And yet, for the bulk of the film, the relationship between Duke and Calhoun is kept guarded. The viewer is expected to be surprised in the latter half of the movie to learn what has been obvious from the first scenes.

Similarly, the only way the character of Duke makes any sense to anyone with more than a quarter of a brain to evaluate such things is if his identity is who we expect him to be. Duke's character, like Calhoun's is plagued by great acting to embody the character. Duke is played by James Garner and long before anyone says anything, Garner is emoting affection and quiet love. Garner acts exactly like a man who loves someone would act when they have to work around a disability.

And if director Nick Cassavetes wanted to keep a secret about Duke and Calhoun, he should have gone with a much, much worse casting director. The person who cast the primary actors in The Notebook did everything right. To wit, when Duke's children come to visit him in the afternoon, one of Duke's daughters looks like Duke. She also looks like . . .

Yeah, I'm not going to say it. You're smart enough to read between the lines here.

Ryan Gosling plays Noah and he's plagued with playing a character who is not well-developed at all. Noah is portrayed through much of the movie as more obsessive than loving and that's annoying. It's also annoying to watch a character who listens as the mother of the woman he loves calls him trash behind a closed door later assume that that same mother who despises him would make sure she got the letters he sent. Noah seemed smarter than that. Or more obsessive. Gosling is good in his scenes with Rachel McAdams, though. The two have decent on-screen chemistry and he looks like he's having a genuinely good time in the scenes where they are being spontaneous and in love.

Rachel McAdams plays Allie and Allie is fairly well-defined (though she makes the same mistakes as Noah as far as her mother is concerned) and that gives McAdams a lot to work with. She embodies Allie well as a society girl who sheds her pretenses and comes to love Noah quite a bit. McAdams is at her best, though, when she must present Allie agonizing over her decisions. McAdams screws her face up in anguish to be wonderfully emotive.

Sadly, though, The Notebook is full of debilitatingly predictable plot and character twists. In addition to the big "surprise" over how Duke and Calhoun relate to one another, the character reversals are unsurprising. So, for example, Allie's mother hates Noah, hates him, hates him, hates him to the point of committing a felony (postal theft is a big "no no" kiddies!), hates him, hates him, loves the new guy in Allie's life, hates Noah, eh, suddenly decides to let Allie live her own life. Gee, I know I did not see that coming.

Ultimately, The Notebook is a mix of The Princess Bride (sans fantasy) and 50 First Dates (sans comedy) and it fails as a movie. Already I am dreading the movie of The Time Traveler's Wife, not because of McAdams (I'm warming up to her as the cinematic version of Claire), but for the simple fact that 500 pages to create characters does not (often) translate into 120 pages (123 minutes) to create characters on screen. The Notebook might be a fabulous book, but it's a movie I've seen a hundred times and there is nothing truly distinctive in this incarnation that makes me want to see it again.

And I cannot recommend it.

For other works with Ryan Gosling, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Idea Of March
Crazy, Stupid, Love.


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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