The Notebook Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/28/2004
There is a reason why chick flicks get a bad name. It is because of movies like The Notebook, which happens to be the third stinker based off a novel by Nicholas Sparks. It follows Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember, both of which I hated. This one was so lame that I even heard a few females trashing it at the screening.
At a nursing home in North Carolina, an old guy named Duke (James Garner) keeps reading stories to an Alzheimer’s patient (Gena Rowlands) from the same notebook, since she never remembers him reading it to her before. The stories revolve around a young couple in 1940 in the coastal town of Seabrook, North Carolina. Seventeen-year-old socialite Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) arrives in town to spend the summer at her folks’ summertime residence. While on a date at the town’s carnival, she gains the attention of 19-year-old Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), a poor lumberyard worker. He tries to get a date with her by hanging on the rail of the Ferris wheel she was riding on, and after she agrees to go out with him, she pulls his pants down and humiliates him by leaving him dangling on the ride in his underwear. The next day, he tries to follow up on the date, but she acts as if she doesn’t know what he is talking about. His best friend, Fin (Kevin Connolly), and Fin’s girlfriend, Sara Tuffington (Heather Wahlquist), set Allie up on a blind date with Noah. After the movie, Noah gets Allie to fall in love with him by having her lie down on an abandoned street in front of a street light to watch the lights change (sorry, I don’t mean to make you gag with how goofy that sounds.) They spend the rest of the summer together, which is fine with Noah’s single father, Frank (Sam Shepard), because he likes the girl, but isn’t okay with Allie’s stuck-up mother, Anne (Joan Allen), who doesn’t like that Noah is poor. She tries to convince her millionaire husband John (David Thornton) that Noah is a bad guy, which he does eventually, even though he had been supportive at first. Anne’s last-ditch attempt to keep them apart is to have the family leave Seabrook early. Noah and Allie get together one last time and go to a dilapidated old manor house that Noah plans to buy someday and almost have sex. Fin interrupts them and tells them that Anne has sent the police to find Allie. Allie’s parents forbid her to see him, which she plans to rebel against, but Noah decides to break up with her because he cared about her, and she was going to college, so the relationship probably wouldn’t have lasted anyway. While Allie was in college, Noah writes her one letter every day for a year, which her mother intercepts and keeps out of her sight (why she didn’t destroy them, I couldn’t understand.) Both Noah and Allie participate in World War II (he as a soldier, she as a nurse), and both leave with completely different lives, having finally moved on. Noah finally buys the manor house (with money given to him by Frank, who had sold his house and died not long after), rebuilds it, and decides to try to sell it, since he can’t spend his life in it with Allie. His Allie substitute is a war widow named Martha Shaw (Jamie Anne Brown), who seems to be fully aware that Noah doesn’t care about her, but accepts it since she is lonely. Allie had met a war veteran named Lon Hammond (James Marsden) while nursing in the war, and when they came back to America, they start dating. This is great news for Anne, since Lon comes from Southern money, and she is especially happy when Lon asks Allie to marry him. Before the wedding was to occur, Allie tells Lon that she needs to go back to Seabrook to tie up some loose ends. What she was really going back for was to see Noah one last time, after seeing his picture in the newspaper in front of his refurbished house. When she gets there, she must decide whether to go back to Lon or stay with Noah, who is still very much in love with her. Back in the present, Duke (okay, let’s get real…you can tell from the beginning that “Duke” is the senior citizen version of Noah) hopes that the stories will jog the memory of Allie. Their kids, daughters Mary Ellen (Nancy De Mayo) and Maggie (Meredith Zealy), and son Noah Jr. (Madison Wayne Ellis), want Duke to come live with them, since they see their mother as a lost cause, but his love for Allie is so deep that it won’t allow him to leave.
The movie is so predictable that I don’t know why they bothered to make it seem like there was a “twist” in it. Heck, even the promotional material gives the big “secret” away! I’m guessing that they wanted to make it suspenseful over whether Allie would choose Noah or Lon. Maybe if they had gotten rid of the present day part and just told the story of the two young lovers, it wouldn’t have been so laughably unsurprising. If they had done that though, the movie would have been too short (since the story didn’t have enough material to carry the movie on its own), and they wouldn’t have had the Alzheimer’s part to tug at the heartstrings.
That brings me to another point…it felt insulting to Alzheimer’s patients. I’ve never known anyone in real life with the disease, but I felt like the way they handled it in the movie was manipulative. They made it look like a slight rehash of Guy Pearce’s condition in Memento.
The biggest crime has to be the fact that almost all of the cast in this movie are normally talented. Gosling came to attention as the Jewish skinhead who struggles with his conscious in The Believer, and McAdams recently shined as the head Plastic in the hilarious movie Mean Girls. While I can forgive McAdams, since her career is just getting started, Gosling has some ‘splaining to do. Since The Believer came out in 2001, he has made only one other high profile movie, the awful Sandra Bullock crime thriller Murder by Numbers. It seems the talented young actor has a problem picking good commercial projects and may have to languish in the indies for a little while longer. Actually, no one in this movie is really that bad, but they are forced to perform some of the most clichéd material I’ve ever seen. I could understand how director Nick Cassavetes could get Rowlands, his mother in real life, to be in it, but how did he convince the extremely talented Allen to play the “mean snobbish mother” character? I’m sure she has seen the character herself in many, many, many movies before, so she wouldn’t want to do a character herself so unoriginal. The only thing I can guess is that she hasn’t done much since her Oscar-nominated turn in The Contender, so she needed the cash.
The only thing keeping me from giving it my lowest rating is that it had some of the steamiest love scenes I have ever seen in a PG-13 rated movie. Guys…if you are dragged kicking and screaming to see this movie by your wife or girlfriend, at least you will get to enjoy this, even though they are brief.
I always get chewed out by women who think that I am insensitive when I don’t like a Sparks movie. I remember when A Walk to Remember came out and I started doing David Spade’s character from “Hollywood Minute.” I said, “I liked the movie the first time I saw it…when it was called Love Story.” I went on to put it on my top five worst movies of 2002 list. This year is only halfway over, but it looks like The Notebook might be headed the same way.
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