The Notebook Review
Valentine's Day. Whether a Hallmark cliché or a genuine tribute to a Saint, some embrace it, some are disdained by it. In essence, it can probably be used for good benefit, an excuse to legitimately show your feelings for someone who may not know you think of them that way, or to shower your affection on a partner. For girls it's a chance to get flowers, chocolates and maybe even underwear, for guys it's a chance to share the chocolates (maybe), smell the roses (maybe) and hopefully see the underwear. Throw in dinner and a movie and what you basically have is a Hallmark-endorsed (and Saint-endorsed) romantic date. What to eat is hard enough to decide, let alone what to watch, and an obvious romantic movie may not necessarily do the trick. Some prefer to pick something easy to follow, in case they get distracted, others might want a solid talking point or something emotionally stimulating. Comedies are good, adventures with heavy love stories also work, but out-and-out romances not so much so - I dare say few guys want to sit down with their girlfriends on Valentine's Day and watch Pretty Woman or Dirty Dancing. Maybe Chocolate or Amelie would work, but films like Mr and Mrs Smith, Grosse Point Blank, The Last of the Mohicans or even The Bodyguard are probably slightly more acceptable compromises. Much of it comes down to taste, but personally there aren't many definitive romances (we're talking Sleepless in Seattle style here) which interest me. No, I don't understand why Richard Gere wants to date a prostitute. No, I don't get why Patrick Swayze isn't arrested for trying to sleep with his teenage student. And don't even get me started on Titanic. So where does The Notebook fit in with all the others?
Told almost entirely in flashback, the film revolves around a story being read to an old lady in a nursing home. It's a quaint little story that she appears to have heard before, but can't quite remember, age leaving her memory fractured, and it tells of a young couple who meet in the forties and - against all odds - spark up a passionate romance that carries them through one unforgettable summer together. Coming from entirely different backgrounds, Allie and Noah appear to have found true love. Allie is of a wealthy and established background, and Noah is poor and working-class, but stripping their respective status away from them, their love is undeniable. Noah is driven by his feelings, this light that he has met in his life, this girl with whom every argument can end in a kiss, who will follow him to the end of the earth just to jump off and hear the splash. Allie is the focal point of his life, the sun around which his universe revolves, and in his company she herself manages to shine so much brighter, truly capable of being herself for the first time in her life. Unfortunately, her parents are not so keen on the romance, to say the least, and when it becomes necessary to fight for what they have, the pressures against them overwhelm. Allie doesn't realise how much her life has changed from having Noah around, until it's too late, and Noah really needs her to before it's too late for the both of them. Will their love stand the test of time?
The Notebook is quite a simple story, one which we've probably all heard before in one form or another - some of us may have even lived this tale (although perhaps not in the 1940s), but it is so perfectly rendered here that you cannot help but get swept up in the romance. You want to know who the elderly couple are, how the lovestruck duo's lives turn out, almost hoping that everything works out for them not only because it would make the story into a feel-good affair, but also because it might give you some hope for the romance in your own life. Can true love really exist? Soul-mates, 'the one', is it all just the stuff of dreams? This couple never label themselves as anything quite so clichéd, but it is clear that they are meant to be together - through tough times, arguing, playing, fighting, making-up, and basically just trying to find a way to be together, despite the odds against them. It is sweet but not sickly so, a romance for all ages, and arguably a perfect Valentine's Day movie.
Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are amongst the best on-screen couples that I have seen for a while. Sure, Brad Pitt and Angelina might be more modern in their Mr and Mrs Smith approach, and I've seen great chemistry between Clooney and Lopez in Out of Sight or Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stown in the aforementioned 'Mohicans, or even Keaton and Basinger in Batman, but none of these are out-and-out romances. Here, the relatively fresh new actors (nowhere near as well known as some of the others I've mentioned) spark up a believable, engaging relationship that is perfectly realised in every look, every gesture and every action. Supporting them (or working against them in some cases) for this affair we have plenty of noteworthy acting talent, not least from veterans James Garner and Gena Rowlands as the elderly couple, but also from Sam Shepard as Noah's reliable and welcoming father and Joan Allen as Allie's cold, embittered and protective mother. They all do well to round out the rich and enjoyable narrative.
The Director appears to have created a perfect romance for many different generations - young and old - which is likely to ring true in one way or another to people across the globe of very differing backgrounds, many of whom (like me) may not be that susceptible to your standard Hollywood love story. Here it is something we are all familiar with, the archetypical boy-meets-girl romance, but largely free of your usual melodrama and even given some depth and resonance, at least enough for you to care about the characters and actually maybe even move you a lil' bit. Throw in a little poetry, a good score, some perfect scenery and one of the best sunset scenes I have ever seen and really what you have is basically just the happier sibling to the recent, excellent, Atonement. Even I have to admit, despite any reservations, that this is one of the best romantic movies out there.