Allie (Gena Rowlands) is in a nursing home suffering from dementia and Duke (James Garner) reads to her from a worn notebook. He is reading the story of how they met, in a bid to trigger some long lost memories. This is their story. Seventeen-year-old wealthy debutante Allie (Rachel McAdams) meets Noah/Duke (Ryan Gosling) while on holidays in Seabrook, North Carolina during the 1940s. They fall passionately in love, with Noah's father's (Sam Shepard) approval; but Allie's snobbish parents John (David Thornton) and Anne Hamilton (Joan Allen) drive them apart. After the war, Allie becomes engaged to Lon (James Marsden), but Noah has never loved anyone but Allie. When Allie sees Noah's photo in the local paper, she heads to Seabrook to see him again.
The Notebook is a film that comes with a swag of movie history baggage. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, son of the late maverick actor/director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands, it includes a cast of actors which spans three decades, including his mum.The Notebook is not the first time Cassavetes has directed his mother on screen either. They first collaborated on Unhook The Stars (1996) and The Notebook marks the third such occasion. While as yet Cassavetes Jr. may not have left his mark on the world of film in the same way as his father did (his three previous features have been so-so), The Notebook categorically reveals that he is a terrific director of actors. Aside from its technical proficiency, all this film really had going for it were the performances.
The Notebook is the kind of syrupy, heightened melodrama more likely to be found in the pages of a Mills & Boon paperback than on the silver screen, in 2004 anyway. In their very first film together screen legends James Garner (Space Cowboys) and Gena Rowlands (Gloria) play Duke and Allie. Allie suffers from dementia and Duke from boredom. In their retirement home, ever the Good Samaritan, Duke reads to Allie daily from her diary in the hope it will jog her ailing memory. Through flashbacks we visit the heady days of Allie's youth spent in 1940s South Carolina, when she was in love for the first time with Noah. Noah is played by the amazing Ryan Gosling (The Believer, Murder By Numbers) who broods like a young Brando, and the young Allie by Rachel McAdam (Mean Girls) who is pushed to a solid dramatic acting effort.
The Notebook is a curious yet watchable film, an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' nostalgic novel by Australian writer Jan Sardi, and it shares more than a passing glance with Sardi's last romance, Love's Brother (2003). Almost an arcane tale of star-crossed lovers, in the hands of any other director it could have been horribly wet, just as A Walk To Remember was, the last of Sparks' books adapted to film. It was another overly-simplistic romantic anomaly with what felt like a born-again Christian mission statement beneath its script. But, like his old man, Nick Cassavetes knows how to glean naturalistic and realistic performances from his actors, which thankfully offset the candy-apple melodrama of this clunky ol' story.
Cassavetes adds some nice, intimate touches and poetic symmetry here and there, which made it easier to watch than it well could have been. If you lie back and watch the actors do their thing you'll emerge unscathed.