Essay Preview: The Notebook
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With just four films under Nick Cassavetess belt, its almost unfair to compare the director to his trailblazing father. In the case of The Notebook, however, its unavoidable.
Thanks to papa John (Husbands, Gloria), the name Cassavetes has come to symbolize intrepid, no-apologies filmmaking and the unconventional human interaction within Now, 15 years after the mavericks death, his heir has traveled to the opposite pole, adapting a Nicholas Sparks novel into a standard tearjerker, filling the screen with handfuls of manipulative Hollywood clichÐ¹s.
The Notebook chronicles the courtship of Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling, Murder by Numbers) and Allie Nelson (Mean Girls Rachel McAdams), two feisty Southerners from vastly different social upbringings. Noahs a quiet lumberyard worker with a couple of bucks and Allies a rich and studious go-getter with the world at her feet. Noah sees pretty miss Allie for the first time at a carnival just before WWII, and falls for her instantly. He chases her and quickly wins her heart, and the two enjoy the wistful type of first romance that makes anyone pine for a simpler time.
The acting pair is engaging (Gosling especially), the Southern front-porch atmosphere is inviting, and the film has a decent energy and pacing. The problem? A storytelling device that plunges The Notebook into the territory of CBS Hallmark specials. The fable of these young lovers is being told in flashback, as old-timer James Garner plays oral historian, passing the tale along to a not-all-there Gena Rowlands. As she repeatedly wonders aloud, “How will this story end?” it becomes glaringly apparent that the films likable romance exists primarily to get to an overly weepy ending — one that Cassavetes and screenwriter Jeremy Leven (Alex and Emma) enjoy shoving down our throats.
Id bet this jumping back and forth along the timeline is essential in Sparkss novel, but its wasteful onscreen, holding little of the emotion or tension that the filmmakers intended. This type of framework has been a stumbling block for solid Hollywood entertainment before, recently in Saving Private Ryan (the clunky narrative of the Normandy visit) and The Bridges of Madison County (the reading of notes and letters). The Notebooks problem, however, is worse: By hinging on the dynamic of the flashback, rather than its action and meaning,