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The Notebook: So sappy it makes your teeth hurt

2 out of 4 stars


The Notebook

Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Written by Jeremy Leven

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Starring Ryan Gosling,

Rachel McAdams, James Garner

and Gena Rowlands

Classification: PG

Rating: **

Hailing from the deep South, where he's poor as a church mouse and she's rich as cotton, they are perforce star-crossed lovers. No problem there. Alas, hailing from a deep South lifted off the schlock pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel, they are star-crossed lovers coated in a goop of sentimental molasses so thick as to induce diabetic coma. Big problem there. Be warned then: The Notebook is meant to be a romantic weepy, and you will shed tears - but only from the consistent and exhausting effort of trying to control your gag reflex. Even a body that welcomes a sugar fix will repel a sugar invasion.

And the invasion isn't long in coming. In the very first frame, director Nick Cassavetes does what his late great father would have disdained, and presents us with a Hallmark card of a shot - pretty lake suffused in the sunset's pink glow, pretty sculler rowing across the water's mirrored surface, pretty duckies winging by in lyrical slow-mo. It all proves pretty prophetic.

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The time is the present and, in a well-scrubbed nursing home overlooking that lake, an old man (James Garner ) is reading to an old woman (Gena Rowlands, Nick's current great mom) a story written down in a black notebook. The woman suffers from Alzheimer's disease, but not to worry because, like everything else in this saccharine flick, her suffering is prettified too - she has contracted an occasionally comic and always dignified strain of dementia.

Naturally, the story is promptly dramatized in a flashback all the way to South Carolina circa 1940, apparently a good year for love and molasses. Enter our paramours, summed up thus: "Noah [Ryan Gosling]was a country boy; Allie [Rachel McAdams]was from the city. She had the world at her feet; he didn't have two dimes to rub together." Ah, but in that fateful summer of sun and clichés, the kids were "crazy about each other" - crazy on Ferris wheels, in movie theatres, at the local swimming hole, and in the abandoned old house that Noah, who's good with his hands, vows to some day buy and restore.

As for their class difference, his poor pop reads Walt Whitman, while her wealthy daddy tells dirty jokes, so I think we're supposed to conclude that the breeding issue kind of balances itself out. Unfortunately, Allie's uptight Mom (Joan Allen) has other ideas, and intervenes to separate the young lovers. Then war erupts to complete the job, at which point it's my duty to report that a few minor characters do meet their death - never too sadly, though, and always handsomely.

Six years later, the war is over and the kids are older and Allie finds herself engaged to a nice rich beau (can't think of single person here who really isn't nice, a behavioural trait impossible to fault anywhere except in an ostensibly dramatic movie). For his lonely part, Noah continues to carry a torch along with a hammer, which he puts to use fulfilling his pledge to renovate that crumbling mansion, seemingly in the fond tradition of If He Builds It, She Will Come. And damned if she doesn't, betrothed to another but still drawn to him. Yes, complications do ensue, although (you might have guessed) nothing remotely ugly, and all designed to leave us breathless in suspense over the burning question: Which pleasant guy will she choose?

Meanwhile, in the present-day sequences, the puzzle's remaining pieces await their own solution: Who exactly is that old fellow, and why is he reading from the notebook? Rest assured that the answers are pretty nice. So are all of the performances. The cinematography too. In fact, we're knee-deep in the treacle by movie's end. Sometimes deeper. At a recent screening, I sank right down to arm-level and barely saved my own notebook. I'd read you what I wrote in it - but that wouldn't be nice.

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About the Author
Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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