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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Notebook (2004)


"Heart wrenchingly romantic"

THE NOTEBOOK is an old-fashioned love story with the topical subject of Alzheimer's Disease thrown in to heighten the Hankie Factor.

The film opens in the present at a genteel, riverside, Southern facility for the long-term care of the aged. An old man, "Duke" (James Garner), is in the habit of reading from a book to an elegant, but chronically confused and distant, lady (Gena Rowlands) of equal antiquity. The story concerns two teenagers during a hot, carefree, South Carolina summer preceding World War II. They are (in extended flashback) Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams).

Noah, working in the local sawmill, is the uneducated son of a dirt-poor father (Sam Shephard). Allie, in these months before she's off to a prestigious New York college, is the only daughter of snobbishly wealthy parents, John (David Thornton) and Anne (Joan Allen) Hamilton.

The book's plot is that hoary one about two young lovers of disparate backgrounds and financial resources, who are subsequently separated by circumstances, objection and obstruction by the wealthy parents, and the subsequent engagement of one to another - in this case, Allie to a devilishly handsome and perfectly decent, rich, young, Army officer wounded during WWII, whom she meets while serving as a volunteer nurse in a Stateside military hospital. Will Noah and Allie ever get back together? That's what Duke's lone listener wants to know.

At midpoint point in this review, and midway through the film, it should be apparent that Duke and his lady friend are Noah and Allie in the winter of their lives. The latter is now suffering from Alzheimer's and only occasionally recognizes her husband, who reads her the story of their courtship over and over in the hope of stimulating her memory.

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THE NOTEBOOK is an engaging love story that even Guys might enjoy. I did. James Garner is one of the most beloved screen veterans, and Ryan Gosling as Noah's younger self is totally likable. McAdams as Allie is effervescent and positively radiant. As a period piece, i.e. that part taking place before and immediately after the war, it's sumptuously photographed with contemporary costumes, hairstyles, music, and lots of vintage automobiles. And the sequence shot in the sunken forest amidst the migrating waterfowl was breathtaking in its beauty.

The film does stumble occasionally. While Joan Allen is superb as the witch mother you love to hate, at least until she reveals a secret of her own late in the movie, the John Hamilton character is a virtual non-entity. And I didn't believe his moustache for a second. (It reminded me of the beards in the Civil War epic GETTYSBURG.) Then, in a very brief sequence showing Noah off at war with Patton's Third Army, he barely bats an eye when his best friend is killed. What was that all about? Finally, the Hollywood ending, written by a screenwriter who must have wet him/herself out of giddiness in the melodrama of the moment, was absurd. Under the circumstances, such a passing is a good trick if one can pull it off, but it's sadly not the case, I fear, for most people in Real Life. Just ask Nancy Reagan.

I doubt that THE NOTEBOOK will receive any Oscar nominations, except for perhaps adapted screenplay (from the novel). But the admission price is still money well spent if you're weary of special FX-laden silliness and you want to see a couple of aging pros, Garner and Rowlands, before they, too, leave us. And girls, take an entire box of Kleenex. By Joseph Haschka


Official site: Trailer

Torrent : here
All subs : here 1CD

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