Warner Bros. // 2004 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 21st, 2013
Behind every great love is a great story.
"Look guys, that's my sweetheart in there. Wherever she is, that's my home."
An elderly woman named Allie (Gena Rowlands, Faces) is suffering from Alzheimers. She no longer recognizes her husband Noah (James Garner, The Great Escape) or her children. Regardless, each day Noah valiantly attempts to revive her memories by telling her the story of how they fell in love. For much of the film, we watch much younger versions of Noah (Ryan Gosling, Drive) and Allie (Rachel McAdams, Morning Glory) caught up in a turbulent, passionate, twisty tale of romance. Will the storytelling make a difference, or is the old Noah trying in vain to recapture something which is gone forever?
At this point, The Notebook is less of a movie and more of a cultural phenomenon. We all know somebody who was brought to tears by the sentimental Nicholas Sparks adaptation (indeed, there's a reasonably high chance that you are that somebody) and/or still regards Ryan Gosling's portrait of young Noah as the ultimate dream guy. The new "Ultimate Edition" Blu-ray release certainly leans heavily on the film's cultural standing, including such eyebrow-raising items as a commemorative locket (so you can wear a photo of Ryan Gosling at all times), a special 96-page The Notebook journal (so you can write down all of your feelings about Ryan Gosling) and a handful of glossy photo cards (almost all of which are images of Ryan Gosling looking dreamy). Somehow I had managed to avoid seeing The Notebook until now, perhaps due to the fact that everyone who recommended it to me had said something along the lines of, "OHMYGODYOUHAVETOSEETHENOTEBOOK!" rather than, "Hey, you should check out The Notebook; it's a pretty good flick." So, is The Notebook as great (or as terrible) as its reputation suggests?
Occasionally, yes. However, The Notebook is an exasperatingly inconsistent film; truly great during its best moments and wretched during its worst. The majority of the movie is a perfectly tolerable (if needlessly melodramatic) romance between two reasonably likable young people. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams have strong chemistry together, and when they share the screen they generate an easy charm which fuels a good portion of the movie. When the plot inevitably separates them for a while (after all, screenwriting 101 tells us that a romantic climax is made more exciting if the lovers involved are getting back together rather than staying together), the obviousness of the writing snaps into focus. It's a contrived romantic fantasy, but at least the lead players do a reasonably good job of selling it.
Despite the fact that Gosling and McAdams are given more screen time, it's Garner and Rowlands who form the heart of the movie. The two actors are so natural and persuasive that they manage to make almost everything else in the movie seem entirely artificial. Garner stands out in particular, delivering a handful of heartwrenching scenes in startlingly powerful fashion. As such, it's quite frustrating that these two old pros are ultimately tied to the worst portion of the movie; an ending which crosses the line from tender romantic fantasy into cheap manipulation. I certainly won't spoil The Notebook's conclusion for those who haven't seen it, but suffice it to say that it's far too contrived even for a movie built on endless contrivances. There's a scene just a few minutes earlier which would been a less conclusive but more effective (and truthful) ending; it's a shame that Sparks and director Nick Cassavettes felt a need to keep going.
Still, it shouldn't come as a surprise given the rest of Cassavettes' resume. The man has never been one to shy away from emotionally manipulative filmmaking. Sometimes it works reasonably well (Alpha Dog) and other times it proves maddening (John Q, My Sister's Keeper). The Notebook falls into both categories at once. I'm glad to have seen it, if only because it permitted me to witness a pair of truly remarkable performances from James Garner and Gena Rowlands. However, I doubt I'll want to return to it, as I suspect the frustrating plotting will become even more prominent with repeat viewings. All available evidence strongly suggests your mileage may vary.
The Notebook (Blu-ray) Ultimate Collector's Edition is the exact same Blu-ray disc viewers have been treated to before (and has already been reviewed on this site), so I won't bother going back over the technical virtues of the disc. In short: it looks and sounds stellar. The supplements contained on the disc itself are the same as well: commentaries with Cassavettes and Sparks, a handful of featurettes, some deleted scenes and a Rachel McAdams screen test. What's puzzling is that this isn't the first time the film has received the deluxe edition treatment. Back in 2009, fans of the movie were given a "Limited Edition" box set which contained a scrapbook album, a stationary set, some notecards and other odds n' ends in addition to the film itself. This version comes with the aforementioned locket, journal and photo cards. It's roughly an even trade, I suppose, though it should be noted that this version suffers from cheaper packaging. The box is flimsy and poorly-designed; it's going to be hard to prevent this set from looking rather weathered in a few years. At least the disc itself is housed inside a standard Blu-ray case (which also contains a DVD and digital copy of the film), so you do have the option of simply removing all of the items and tossing the cheap packaging. If you feel the locket, journal and photos are worth an extra $20 or $30, be my guest, but you're probably better off sticking with the standard Blu-ray release.
The Notebook is a well-acted, occasionally moving and occasionally exasperating film. As Nicholas Sparks adaptations go, that counts as above-par.
The film is free to go, but this Blu-ray set is guilty of being a needless
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Screen Test
* Photo Cards