Movie Review
The Notebook
The Notebook poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published June 20, 2004
US Release: June 25, 2004

Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
Starring: Gena Rowlands , James Garner , Rachel McAdams , Ryan Gosling

Running Time: 121 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $81,002,000
28 of 120
A nice, relieving break from the traditional cutesy experiences that these movies usually provide.
I was on the verge of refusing to go to this (free) screening with a capital R. If I had to sit through its trailer one more time in theaters I was going to go nuts; this just looked like a pure cutesy, sentimental chick flick that barely any guys would like. But then I read an online review from someone who also didn?t want to see the film beforehand, and who was surprised that he ended up liking it. So I sucked it up and went to this screening, questionable but curious, and what did I find out? Oh my dear Lord, The Notebook is actually a good movie.

One of the factors that helps this film breathe the life that it does is that despite its ad-campaign, this is not really a teen movie (in terms of how we define a teen flick today). It features two young adults who will easily attract a young audience, but the film is quite mature for its genre, and fairly different in its tone. Before seeing The Notebook I expected the movie to draw in many of the same viewers who saw A Walk to Remember in theaters (mostly young girls). But after seeing this I also think it?s going to strike a chord with those who saw The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. This is a film that young viewers can enjoy and relate to, but it?s also a story that older filmgoers can connect with as well, which is quite an accomplishment.

I had heard rumors that this was quite a tearjerker, which is a statement that I ridiculed on more than one occasion. Sure, it doesn?t always take much to get people crying (at Love Actually, there were two young girls sitting behind me who were crying a river near the finale), but I just sincerely doubted this film?s emotional potential (that is, its ability to pull at your heartstrings intelligently). The Notebook is based off a novel that I?ve never read, so I didn?t have deep insight to its story, but it looked like it could so easily be cheesy in terms of emotional manipulation. But after seeing the film I can say (without mocking) that there are likely going to be people in the audience shedding a tear or two (as there were at this screening), and that result is achieved skillfully.

Adapted from Nicholas Sparks? novel, The Notebook is the telling of two young adults, Allie Nelson (Rachel McAdams) and Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), who fall in love during a summer in the 1940?s. These two are obviously meant to be together, but things change when World War II drafts Noah away, leaving Allie no choice but to move on and live her own life. What further complicates the scenario is that Allie?s mother (played by Joan Allen) resents Noah because of his low economic position, making Allie and Noah?s relationship a difficult one to sustain.

Saying too much about The Notebook?s story can make the difference of falling for the film?s attempted emotional arc versus feeling indifferent. Aside from what the trailer presented I didn?t have many details about the premise, and I think that?s partly why The Notebook worked on me to the extent that it did. I can imagine critics having a pretty good idea of what this film is about beforehand (with the press notes they receive before screenings), and judging from some of their early reviews, The Notebook hasn?t been winning votes amongst them.

Some of the reviewers who think this film is a sentimental cheese fest are likely going to rant about its plot and spoil details that the average reader probably wouldn?t want to know. The trailer doesn?t reveal everything but it also doesn?t sell the film properly in terms of tone; however, I can?t really blame the New Line marketing executives for that, as ?cute?-looking movies usually sell.

But what helps in this case is being able to connect with the characters and the general story. Regardless of your age, if you?ve ever fallen in love this is a story that you can easily relate to. The film captures the innocence of the characters? age, and can spawn flashbacks from your own life. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are big reasons for why this story works, as their acting is very good, and their chemistry is consistent and believable. McAdams recently co-starred in the teen comedy, Mean Girls (B), and here proves her potential to carry a film, and Ryan Gosling is equally impressive; their onscreen duo is one that both genders should be able to tolerate and identify with.

The Notebook has a similarity to The Princess Bride (B+) in how it is told, but the key difference being that this film lacks such a quantity of classic lines, a memorable story, and the fascinating characters that picture offered. And for its genre, The Notebook is unusually mature in its tone, and scenes are rarely too cute (there might be a moment or two), which allows the actors to shine.

I?m not sure how many people (or shall I be more specific ? guys) will actually believe me with this film, as I was quite skeptical before forcing myself into this screening. The trailer is likely to turn off a lot of guys but make many of their girlfriends talk them into seeing the film, and my bet is that more of them will come out delightfully surprised than they would?ve expected. I?m not sure if this will perform like Ya-Ya Sisterhood with a limited cast leading the way, but if it doesn?t immediately this could still carry some solid word of mouth.

Few films of this genre actually have me wanting to stay to the end credits, and there are only few that don?t leave me frustrated at the obvious plot devices. I wanted to watch the whole film for the acting alone, as well as the fact that I wasn?t 100% sure what the turnout would be. If you?ve read the novel and know everything there is to know and don?t have any interest in an onscreen adaptation, then The Notebook probably won?t be for you. But if you want a film that takes a nice, relieving break from the traditional cutesy experiences that these movies usually provide, then The Notebook might be the film that you?d never expect to be good, and be proven wrong.
Lee's Grade: B-
Ranked #28 of 120 between Mean Girls (#27) and Saved! (#29) for 2004 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 2947 graded movies
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