The Notebook is an exercise in tedium. Instead of showing us highlights and lowlights of a love story, it goes into great detail to show us pretty much everything that happened to its characters. Some might praise that depth, and it’s true that this helps us know these characters, but in showing us so many mundane moments, I kept hoping for something important to happen. I was let down more often than not.
Beginning with the always reliable James Garner, The Notebook has some promise. Our opening scene shows Garner choosing to read a story to a dementia patient played by Gena Rowlands. Most of the film is spent with the characters within this story, instead of the ones reading it, even though I would have loved to spend more time with Garner and Rowlands. Anyway, the story that Garner reads is a long one, spanning many years, and will take up the next two hours of your life.
In it, we meet our two leads early on. The first is a country boy named Noah (Ryan Gosling), who sees Allie (Rachel McAdams) at the local fair and decides to make her the center of his attention. He can’t take his eyes off her, even though she comes from a wealthy family. The two should be separated by society, but after a daring ploy and a couple of conversations, each falls deeply in love with the other. I suppose almost being run over by a car can do that for you.
Despite their love, they don’t really have anything else that a relationship should have. They constantly fight, we’re told, and despite Noah’s father (Sam Shepard) not taking issue with Allie, her parents (Joan Allen and David Thorton) don’t like Noah. Or, more correctly, they don’t like the type of person he is. They’re fine with him, and think he’s a nice guy, but since he works with lumber making less than a half dollar per hour, and will never have the type of wealth they have, they have to disapprove.
Eventually, the pair is separated thanks to Allie’s parents, and they move on with their lives. Allie gets engaged to the type of man her parents approve of (James Marsden), and Noah continues working. But the thought of the other person continues to permeate their minds. I’ll leave the plot synopsis here because I might have spoiled too much already, but considering this is when the film actually gets going, I figure it’s fair game to explain it until here.
So, what we’ve got here is a love story in which the villains are the woman’s parents. There’s one twist in the plot, and while it’s not all that surprising, it’s game changing. You see things in a different perspective after it occurs, even though The Notebook didn’t have to do too much to hide it from you. It’s something that sets up a near-perfect ending as well, which is always nice to see.
The Notebook is definitely a tear-jerker. If you don’t know that going in, I’d like to direct you to your local tissue store now. I’m not going to give the ending away, but because of how much time we spend with the characters, there are a few emotional moments which resonate with the audience. We understand these people, and we feel sorry or happy for them whenever they are feeling that way themselves. That’s something that needs to happen in a film like this, so thankfully director Nick Cassavetes paid close attention to it.
However, I do believe that he gave us too much time when not much is going on, leading to a few moments when we get bored. While I’m not saying that this material should be given only 90 minutes, there were definite points when the pacing was just a little too slow thanks to moments which shouldn’t have made the final cut. Cut out 10-15 minutes, and we have a better film, although I can imagine if that were to have happened, fans of the novel which the film is based on might not have been too happy. You can’t please everyone, I suppose.
Actually, the length of the film wasn’t really the problem, and if those 10-15 minutes were given to Garner and Rowlands, I wouldn’t have had a problem. Even if they were left in and given to the Noah/Allie storyline, I would be okay if the events depicted weren’t boring. While most of the film is a slow burn, the flame goes out at a few select moments which lead to me losing focus on what I was watching. I don’t need to see (what felt like) a dozen shots of Ryan Gosling painting wood, for instance.
I liked most of the actors in their roles, even if Rachel McAdams couldn’t hold an accent to save her life. Our film is set in the 1940s, and she tries to put on a southern accent. It’s there for maybe a quarter of the time she’s on-screen, but otherwise disappears, leading me to wonder if it was necessary in the first place, especially considering her co-star didn’t seem to attempt anything. They’re both likable and play their characters well, but that accent slippage did bug me a bit.
The Notebook is overlong, but not unsatisfying. It’s a tear-jerker, and it certainly succeeds at that part. It gives us flawed humans as our main characters, and forces us to spend so much time with them that it’s difficult not to relate with them. When the ending, and the twist in the plot, comes, it does make us feel something, although you’ll be emotional for more of the movie than just that. It is, at times, too slow, but it all leads up to a near-perfect conclusion.