Notebook, The (2004)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/10/05 17:15:22

"Two parts idiotic romance, one part offensive melodrama."
1 stars (Sucks)

It wasn’t enough for “The Notebook” to just be a bland, forgettable period romance. No, novelist Nicholas Sparks (the writer responsible for “A Walk To Remember” and “Message In a Bottle,” you’re welcome) decided to compound the bad by adding a framing story that treats Alzheimer’s Disease like a lovable case of amnesia. The film - with an adapted screenplay by Jeremy Levin and Jan Sardi, because hey, let’s spread the blame - is a slap in the face to anyone who has ever lost a loved one to such a dreadful disease. Here, it’s treated as just some convenient plot point. Others have defended the film’s choice of romanticizing the disease by saying we should be allowed a moment of fantasy; I say that such fantasy is an insult.

But first, let’s discuss the bland, forgettable period romance part of the movie, because after all, that‘s what takes up almost the entire picture. In it, young Noah (Ryan Gosling), working class country boy, meets young Allie (Rachel McAdams), uppity well-to-do socialite, during one particularly romantic 1940s summer. They fall in love, but her cartoonishly stuffy rich parents disapprove, meaning that once the summer ends, they part ways, hearts broken.

Now, if I were to tell you that Noah spent an entire year writing letters to Allie following their separation, you should, assuming you have seen more than two movies in your entire life, be able to guess why Allie never received them. (You should also be able to guess when the scene is to come where Allie finds out about the letters.) And when we see that Allie becomes engaged to a smarmy young country club type (James Marsden), and then when we see that Noah returns to Allie’s life, the odds of you being fooled by the script’s attempts to have you guessing whom Allie eventually marries are quite slim indeed.

This is, in fact, a laughable story all around, a cheesy, dopey, by-the-numbers affair that fails in its every attempt to be anything other than painfully predictable. The characters are clichés straight out of the Stock Character Handbook, their actions a seemingly endless parade of poorly constructed hazy-lens falling-in-love bits, mixed with the occasional limp confrontations, all supported by bad dialogue. Only the decent performances from the leads make up for the utter triteness of it all.

Decent performances also help keep the modern day framing scenes from swirling down the gutter, although it does get awfully close at times. Telling the tale of Noah and Allie is James Garner, resident at the nicest, biggest, and most expensive nursing home on the planet. He’s reading the story from a journal, and Gena Rowlands is listening. It’s obvious that Rowlands is Allie all grown up, and the journal is the story of her life - although the movie decides to emphasize the point later on, in case you couldn’t figure it out. But the script unwisely tries to make us guess if Garner is Noah or the Other Guy. Considering how there’s only one way the story could have properly turned out, there’s only one person Garner could be, so what’s the use of making us guess?

Anyway. The reason Garner’s character is reading to Allie is that it helps her remember. Which is fine and all, except for the fact that Allie’s condition is sort of a Hollywood version of dementia. It’s cutesy-fied, played out like it’s nothing more than amnesia, that hey, if you read old diaries to Alzheimer’s patients, then all their memories just might come swirling back in one big explosion of happiness. Which is exactly what happens here, in a scene that’s equally ignorant and thoughtless. (Only once, late in the film, does Rowland’s character get to behave like an actual Alzheimer’s victim, but by then it’s an action dropped in solely for the convenience of the plot, making it an even greater offense.)

Watching “The Notebook,” I couldn’t help but think back on “Son of the Bride,” a marvelous import from Argentina. That film dealt more honestly with the way a family handles Alzheimer’s. More importantly, it showed how to use the disease as part of a story without resorting to cheap manipulation. In that film, the disease felt like a natural part of the story. In “The Notebook,” it feels like a gimmick, a quick, easy way to jerk tears.

Finally, I understand that Alzheimer’s affects different people in different ways, and perhaps the behaviors of Rowland’s character may indeed be honest to the experiences of some. Still, that does not excuse the filmmakers from cheapening such a miserable disease by exploiting it for crass Hollywood sentiment. There is no reason for either Sparks or the scripters to have included the modern day material in the story. They merely did it because they needed some extra tears, and this was the easiest route. Shame on them, and shame on director Nick Cassavetes for bringing such a contemptible work to life. Oh, and shame on him for making the period stuff as idiotic as it is, too. As if one horrible movie wasn’t enough, here, we got two. Shame.

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