‘Notebook’ stuffed with insipid romance, charmless teen lovers

  • By Robert Horton / Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, June 24, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There is one redeeming feature of “The Notebook,” an otherwise drippy romance that somehow became the opening-night attraction at the recent Seattle International Film Festival.

Unfortunately, that one redeeming feature occupies about 5 percent of this picture’s 121 minutes. The other 95 percent is taken up with an insipid love story set in the past.

The redeeming feature? Good old James Garner, that veteran actor and man’s man. He plays an elderly husband tending to his wife (Gena Rowlands); she’s been locked in the grip of Alzheimer’s for some time. As she must stay at a nursing home, he has chosen to stay there with her.

Garner made his fame with his effortless masculinity and ironic charm, so there is something very touching about watching him give a performance full of vulnerability and heartache. He’s splendid.

Throughout the picture his character reads aloud to his wife. He tells of two teenagers who fall in love, are separated by World War II, and struggle with their unresolved passion for each other.

Alas, this is the tale that takes up the 95 percent. Allie (Rachel McAdams) is from a wealthy family; Noah (Ryan Gosling) is from down on the farm. They court and spark in North Carolina, until Allie’s parents realize this youthful fun may be turning serious.

Just like in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” there’s a dilapidated old house that the two gaze at and dream about restoring. They go for a rowboat ride, get caught in a shower, then hug and laugh in the rain.

It’s a good rule of thumb that any movie with young lovers laughing in the rain has got a lot of ground to make up. “The Notebook” never works off its debt.

The two young actors are rising stars. Gosling, late of “The United States of Leland,” has the furrowed intensity the role requires but not a lot of compensating charm. McAdams was the ringleader of the “Mean Girls,” and while her coltish spirits and sexy laugh are appealing, she seems untethered by gravity. They make the young passion of Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass” look very deep indeed.

Sam Shepard plays Noah’s father, in down-home fashion, while Joan Allen carves out a few strong, steely moments as Allie’s society mom.

The script is based on the bestseller by Nicholas Sparks. The director is Nick Cassevetes, son of Rowlands and actor-director John Cassavetes. He made a promising beginning to his career with “Unhook the Stars,” but this film’s directing can best be described as soft and moist.

All of this may well be enough for devotees of romance novels. But for anybody else, there is only Garner, and he’s not around nearly enough.

New Line Productions

Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are young lovers in “The Notebook.”

“The Notebook” H

Romantic mush: Moist tale of a pair of insipid young lovers separated by class differences and World War II, and an older couple recounting the story. James Garner is superb but is only in a sliver of the movie; the rest is a romance novel.

Rated: PG-13 rating is for subject matter

Now showing: Everett 9, Galaxy 12, Grand, Marysville 14, Mountlake 9, Guild 45th, Meridian 16, Woodinville 12, Cascade.

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