New Line // 2004 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 14th, 2005
Behind every great love is a great story.
Best-selling print author Nicholas Sparks (A Walk To Remember, Message in a Bottle) lays down another full house with The Notebook, a romantic tearjerker about young love, old people, and all the things that happen in between. Directed by Nick Cassavetes (She's So Lovely, Unhook The Stars) and staring Ryan Gosling (Murder By Numbers), Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls), James Marsden (X-Men), Gina Rowlands (Gloria), and James Garner (My Fellow Americans), The Notebook arrives on DVD care of New Line Home Entertainment.
For Allie (Rachel McAdams) and Noah (Ryan Gosling), their love story is one fraught with heartache, passion, time, and destiny. But before we can get to that, flash forward decades to an older gentleman named Duke (James Garner) visits an elderly woman (Gina Rowlands) suffering from Alzheimer's in a nursing home. In the midst of her debilitating disease, he begins to read her a story, the story of Allie and Noah and how they met, fell in love, and discovered all the complications that go along with romance.
Noah is a mill worker still living with his father (playwright Sam Shepard) in a rundown house, while Allie comes from a long line of wealth and deals with her snobbish mother (Joan Allen, The Contender) who thinks that Noah isn't worthy of her status. When the summer comes to an end, Noah and Allie are forced to go their separate ways, yet never leaving each other's thoughts. Seven years later finds Allie engaged to a wealthy southern socialite (James Marsden) and Noah putting the finishing touches on a plantation farmhouse that he promised Allie he'd restore for her during their summer of love. Through a series of chance encounters, Allie and Noah meet once more and find the spark of their previous romance is still very much alive. This forces Allie to make a decision that will alter both her and Noah's lives...forever.
Ah yes, the romantic tearjerker. This most durable of all glossy film genres guarantees lust, love, love lost, love found, love lost again, trials and tribulations, sweeping music, upper-class parents, a lower class lover, romantic nostalgia of a time since forgotten, a fiancé that isn't right for one of the romantic leads, reminiscences, old people in love, and sometimes death by either cancer, old age, a farming accident, or a car crash. The best romantic tearjerker makes sure to include at least five of the above, if not more. Director Nick Cassavetes's The Notebook includes all of these things, and in good numbers. The Notebook is like a training film for those who want to make a tearjerker; no cliché stone is left unturned -- the film is so syrupy it could be melted down and used as high fructose corn syrup in bottles of soda.
And yet, and yet...the movie captured me. It put a lump in my throat. I can't help it, I've got to admit it: I liked it. Such is the complexity of my existence: I can watch zombies tear apart a an innocent puppy without my tear ducts budging, but give me a couple of old geezers reading to each other and I fold up faster than an origami swan. The Notebook, based on Nicholas Sparks's bestseller of the same name, didn't grab me quite as much as Sparks's A Walk To Remember (that Mandy Moore vehicle got me bawling like a five-year-old girl who'd dropped her ice cream cone), but it did a pretty good job of getting me all sentimental inside.
It's a credit to the lead actors' talents -- and the expert directions of Cassavetes, son of legendary director John Cassavetes -- that they were able to pull off the story and characters. In essence, The Notebook isn't anything wholly original -- we've all seen this type of story before. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl discover each other later in life, etc. Nothing in The Notebook is unique enough that it will blow you away. That's why The Notebook works mostly on the level of character development -- as the film wanders towards its inevitable conclusion (and while I won't spoil the ending, let's just say it pretty much ends the way you'd expect it to), you find yourself caring about these characters more than expected.
Both Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams shine as the two lovers, both giving off just the right amount of doe-eyed innocence and wistful thinking that their summer love will last forever. The two are a fine pair, each instilled with the one thing "cinematic romance that can only last two hours" needs: lust and passion. We know they're in love because at one point Noah thrusts Allie against the wall as they come out from the rain. Soaked through, the lovers (tastefully) molest each other as candles hover in the background of an old, long deserted plantation mansion. It's a moment that is can only happen in the movies, yet it works -- hell, I got so hot and bothered, I even began flipping through the phonebook in search of deserted southern plantations for rent (though they're difficult to find in the middle of a Chicago winter).
However, the two most involving players are James Garner as an older gentleman reading Allie and Noah's story to Gina Rowlands's character, who has a form of Alzheimer's, a degenerative disease that robs the victim of their memories. Once again, I don't want to spoil anything about their unique relationship, so I'll just say that both Rowlands (also the director's mother) and Garner understand how to play these roles without ever going over the top. When you watch them on-screen you are seeing two seasoned people who understand what each character is going through (Garner especially gives an Oscar worthy performance).
Alzheimer's is a cruel affliction, one that robs the sufferer not only of memories but also the experience to know that they are loved. My grandmother succumbed to it, and I saw her go from a lively, feisty woman to a shell of someone no one recognized, least of all herself. By the final reel of the film the elderly couple deserve the ending that they're given, and the audience feels both sadness and happiness as the credits roll -- it's a pure Hollywood moment, and one that makes you want to call your mom, dad, husband, or wife and tell them that you love them. And if a film has made you feel like that by the end, it probably gave you just a little bit more for your money.
The Notebook is presented in a decent looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Overall this is a fine looking print, though not without its share of problems. The detail in many scenes seems to be lacking, and while the colors and black levels are all solid and well rendered, overall this image could have looked a bit sharper. There is a small amount of edge enhancement in the transfer, though not enough to cause the viewer to notice once they're engaged in the film.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround in English. The soundtrack is far better than the video presentation. There are a few lush surround sounds to be found here, not the least of which is composer Aaron Zigman's romantic film score. While other ambient and background noises can be found in various speakers, this is a mostly front-heavy mix. Also included on this disc is an English 2.0 Dolby Surround mix, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
The Notebook is part of New Line's Platinum Series and sports a few fine supplements for fans of the film to peruse through. Starting off the disc are two commentary tracks; the first track is by director Nick Cassavetes and the second is by author Nicholas Sparks. Both of these commentaries should provide the viewer with an ample amount of information on the film's production, casting, story, screenplay, and source material. Cassavetes is open and honest about the film, discussing his work with the MPAA, what it was like working with Gosling and McAdams, and how some of the shots were achieved. Not surprisingly, Sparks's commentary is much more interested in the characters (which were based partly on his wife's grandparents' relationship). Taken as a whole, these two tracks are a fine listen.
Next up are twelve deleted scenes that run nearly a half-hour. Some of the scenes were taken out to achieve the PG-13 rating, and others are just extensions of other scenes. While I don't feel that any of these would have added much to the final film, it's nice to have them on this disc. Five featurettes ("All In The Family: Nick Cassavetes," "Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story, Well Told," "Southern Exposure," "Locating The Notebook," and "Casting Ryan & Rachel") cover a wide range of production information for the film, including Cassavetes's history in film with his famous father and mother; what sparks Nicholas Sparks to write; the locations for the shoot; the casting of McAdams, Gosling and others; historical info on the locations; and more. Complementing the casting information is a screen test for Rachel McAdams.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the film, as well as a promotional spot for the film's soundtrack.
As I'm writing this, I'm reminded that it's only a few short days until Valentine's Day. If you're in the mood for a winning romantic love story for that special Hallmark holiday -- or if you're just in the mood to go through an entire box of Kleenex -- the The Notebook is for you.
I'm cryin' right now just thinkin' 'bout that ending.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track by Director Nick Cassavetes
* Commentary Track by Author Nicholas Sparks
* "All In The Family: Nick Cassavetes" Featurette
* "Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story, Well Told" Featurette
* "Southern Exposure" Locating The Notebook" Featurette
* "Casting Ryan & Rachel" Featurette
* Rachel McAdams Screen Test
* 12 Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Soundtrack Spot
* Official Site
* Nicholas Sparks's Official Site