Write this down...

I have to admit off the bat that "The Notebook" is not a title that does much for me. It's bland. It places a lot of weight in an ordinary object. It sounds just a tad like an afterschool special. If not for learning that this film had Nick Cassavetes directing his mother, Gena Rowlands, I likely would have passed it by (those of you not familiar with the late, great John Cassavetes would find great reward in educating yourselves).

The opening scenes of birds and a rower at sunrise is amazingly beautiful cinematography, something echoed several other times throughout the film. I would say Nick has better a visual sense than his father, but perhaps that's something to do with having bigger budgets available to him.

We follow two storylines. In the present, a man (James Garner) reads from a notebook to a woman (Rowlands), who, from Alzheimer's or otherwise, has lost touch with her life and who she is. By reading to her, this man is hoping to bring her memories back.

The pages of the notebook relate a story of young love in Seabrook, South Carolina, and this constitutes the biggest chunk of the film. Allie is the daughter of wealthy parents, looking forward to a prestigious college, while Noah has manual labor to look forward to. It's an unlikely love, with an unlikely start. It's pretty clear what kind of trouble is coming.

Yes, the story goes into separation and reconciliation, one of the oldest plots in the book. But there are only so many possible stories, and where The Notbook excels is in making it real, and creating characters that are connected and feel so deeply, that it's hard not to be carried along with it all.

There is something regal about Rowlands, which I'm not sure I can properly describe. It's hard not to simply watch her, even when she is merely sitting vacantly from the effects of her condition. For it me, this almost threatened the illusion, but her talent is so strong, there was no false moment, no crack in her character, to make me believe anything was unreal.

Garner is amazing. My interest has grown in exploring his earlier career, though I wonder if age has, ironically, made better roles available.

As Allie, Rachel McAdams brings a surprising depth. At times, the character seems to laugh exceeding, almost to the point of irritation. But it comes out like a defense mechanism of sorts. When she and Noah fight, there is a truth and a volatility to her performance. When she hurts, we hurt.

The irrepressible Noah is also a revelation from Ryan Gosling, and a complete departure from the creepy kid in Murder by Numbers (I've seen him in The United States of Leland also, but I barely remember the film). Even Joan Allen's respectable supporting gig gets a good punch toward the end. All in all, the performances are stellar, which I shouldn't be surprised by. After having seen all four of his films, Nick seems to have become very much an actor's director - indeed he's had thirty-some film roles himself.

There's a bit of a false ending, which bothers me just a bit. We could have ended there, but the tone of the story is fairly laid back, and the slow fade out, coupled with its misleading connotations, seemed just too strong a choice for the situation. I think they chose the right ending - it was just misguided to play with the audience's emotions at that moment.

The notebook manages to be bittersweet but not sacharrine, familiar but not trite. The story works not because of the individual parts so much as the grand whole it creates, one that resonates on the meaning of relationships and life itself.

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