All February I’m adding reviews of romance films from my archive that haven’t been posted to the site. This one comes from March 10, 2009. I watched this because I needed to understand the hype, and unashamedly, I get it.
There is no brighter gem in movies than a love story told right. That is “The Notebook.” Romance is central to hundreds of thousands of films, but few are told as well as this film tells it. Between Nicholas Sparks’ heart-wrenching story, director Nick Cassevetes’ attention to setting and mood and the acting brilliance and universally good looks of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, a bigger emotional punch is hard to come by.
The film is a period romance taking place in the late 1930s and 40s about a teenage couple that meet and fall in love over a summer. It is told to us by Duke (James Gardner) as he reads it from a notebook to an old woman living in an elderly care facility. Noah (Gosling) and Allie (McAdams) are from two different backgrounds: Noah is a working class guy living by his means and Allie’s parents are loaded. Despite their undeniably chemistry they split ways after the summer. Although their lives take off in different directions, you can tell they’re destined to come back into each other’s lives.
A good love story draws you in to the main relationship, connects to you emotionally some way. “The Notebook” does this in numerous ways. The first is, well, the attractiveness of Gosling and McAdams. They are beautiful human creatures and their chemistry is impeccable both physically and in terms of their acting. They also have a believable romance, which the entire film hinges on. They actually act like young people in love do. Anyone who has been in love will identify with their relationship: the constant affection, the silliness — even the fighting. It’s incredibly honest and though the script isn’t immaculate, all those other elements cover up the rough patches of dialogue, which the usual cheesy romance never accomplishes.
Cassevetes plays a crucial role adding beauty to the film. Working with French cinematographer Robert Fraisse, each scene has distinct colors, beginning with the rich red of the opening sequence that more or less tells you everything you need to know about the film without more than a line of dialogue. The way the love scenes are lit and the way the outdoors scenes are full of life bring out the tenderness and the youthful energy of Noah and Allie’s romance and their re-connection.
Romance is about execution, finding a way to avoid clichés or create an emotional pull so strong that clichés seem to evaporate seconds after they happen. Despite its reputation as the chick flick of all chick flicks, just try not feeling invested in what’s going on and caring about what happens to the characters. It’s hard.
The Notebook (2004)
Directed by Nick Cassevetes
Written by Jeremy Leven (screenplay), Jan Sardi (adaptation), Nicholas Sparks (novel)
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Gardner, Gena Rowlands