Director: Nick Cassavetes
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, James Marsden, Sam Shepard
Duration: 124 minutes
It’s often clear from how the producers treat the opening credits how they intend the film to unravel; here the rippling waves under a perfect sunset make clear what direction the mood shall cruise. The Notebook starts the way of cliché, and obeys the familiar rules of storytelling. Its tonal consistency is a major strength, but any semblance to formula is false. It is a paean of love between good people, from the dawn of maturity to the end – and a eulogy of how such love obeys nothing but its true self.
This sounds corny – but that’s on account of this medium. Actions speak greater than words, a picture tells the story of a thousand etc, but the point for every filmmaker is: can we make an audience love our characters? And here, where everything from Metropolis to The Matrix has failed, the story wins your attention from the first scene, when James Garner lets himself be quietly introduced to Gena Rowlands. There’s no shortage of soft focus, but it doesn’t trouble the picture. Noah and Allie must fall in love, and that’s it.
The Notebook is an example of how films should be made; not in terms of technical rigour or computer effects virtuosity, but in that it is a film that was in the public interest to have been produced. It must have taken courage to create it, and full marks to New Line Cinema for assigning a substantial budget to make a half-period film that promises nothing yet still delivers so much. If there is some witty angle of attack for shooting holes in this film, I haven’t found it. I’d rather not try.
You’ll rarely get a chance to admire such a perfect example of perfect cinema. Watch joy with sorrow, admire courage whilst admitting the urge in us all to surrender our instincts for the promise of an easier life. If you can stomach this, then there may be no finer feature of entertainment so profound as what The Notebook has attained.
And whilst it shuns the notion that at the end there should be justice, there is always room for hope. And if the final relief is briefer than you would have liked, it’s always gentler than what you might have feared. Watching Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson triumph through the horrors of senile dementia will be an image through which eventually I’ll look back upon my youth. It is seeing the rich inside the poor, of accepting the dark amidst the light, the blessing of sense through the curse of waste.
But, fresh from leaving The Notebook’s acknowledgements rolling skywards I couldn’t help but feel that, if anyone else thinks remotely like me, then at least two people often forget to live at all. We should be reminded of the futility of much of our thoughts more often. Astronomy might be the surest bet to gain a true perspective of your concerns. Falling in love is another; watching Nick Cassavete’s masterpiece is no less reflective and most likely the cheapest.
There are few actors who could carry over the necessary gravitas for Noah; as a young man Ryan Gosling seems to ripen with every scene, and in age James Garner handsomely fills the acute void left by the late, great James Stewart with distinguished poise. It’s fair to say that the casting couldn’t be stronger, though a rather ER-ish doctor stands out from the otherwise steadfast characters.
If it is a flaw in the film that none of the personae contain malice or selfish antics, then it is a flaw that perversely satisfies the need for wholesome characters, and lets the film breathe its message of intrinsic, uncompromised morality in our post-modern times. Noah’s relaxed decision to remain with his senile wife, despite struggling every minute to even be recognised by her creates an ambience more touching than any American film for fifty years.
Mature, selfless decisions are increasingly snubbed by our society; responsibility during hard-won love has been filed away as a folly of an older time. The Notebook has banished this ignoble presumption that love is the sole domain of the young. Instead it illustrates how in our youth we simply had too much to learn.
I’ve always been uneasy about the erratic quality of cinema, especially from the Hollywood stables but though I never lost faith, I still feel that I have had that faith restored. Nick Cassavetes has found a beautiful story and produced a startlingly beautiful film. The acting is sublime, the plot twists are subtle in design but overwhelming in effect, and the scenic direction is more worthy of a Turner than an Oscar. The Notebook cannot be recommended enough.