Romantic write-off

 

REVIEWED - THE NOTEBOOK: Defying the maxim that they don't make 'em like that any more, The Notebook is a thoroughly old-fashioned romantic melodrama awash with misty-eyed sentiment as it charts the obstacles placed in the path of two young lovers from opposite sides of the social divide.

Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) first meet at a carnival in his North Carolina hometown during the summer of 1940. It's love at first sight for Noah, who works at the local lumber yard, and Allie, who's holidaying in the town with her wealthy family, soon responds. The movie presents an idealised view of their world, as Noah reads Walt Whitman's poetry on the porch with his father (Sam Shepard), while Allie paints watercolours, and the young lovers go boating together on a river densely populated by swans while the sun beams down on an idyllic landscape.

This is, of course, all too good to be true. Enter the villain of the piece in Allie's hard-faced, socially conscious mother (Joan Allen), who describes Noah as "trash" and orders Allie not to see him any more, despatching her to college in New York. Meanwhile, Noah patriotically enlists in the US army and serves under General Patton in Europe.

This slender tale is laden with reams of expository dialogue as the movie repeatedly cuts to the present where an elderly man (James Garner) reads it to a woman (Gena Rowlands) suffering from senile dementia. This structural device is consistently intrusive, and as heavy-handed as the film's painfully protracted finale.

The movie is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, whose work has already provided the basis of two other forgettable films, Message in a Bottle and A Walk to Remember, and the trite, manipulative narrative sinks under the leaden direction of Nick Cassavetes, who, on the basis of this and his earlier John Q and She's So Lovely, seems to have inherited little of the talent of his parents, Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes.

This is all the more unfortunate given that Rowlands and Garner invest their roles with dignity, and the star-crossed lovers are engagingly played by two highly promising young actors - Gosling from The Believer and Murder by Numbers, and McAdams, demonstrating her range after her entertaining portrayal of the high school bitch in Mean Girls.

-  Michael Dwyer