how far can you stretch a story of first love?
For two hours if you are author Nicholas Sparks or director John
Cassavetes. Mr. Sparks has a
satchel full of clichés that sorely test even the most tolerant among us, and
Mr. Cassavetes, normally a fine director, has the unenviable job of arranging
and rearranging this predictable dialogue until our patience is worn nearly
through. “The Notebook” is a
bowl of mush.
Mr. Cassavetes and his fine cast –
Gena Rowlands, James Garner, Joan Allen, and Sam Shepard – mush is not what we
expect; but wait, I forgot; this is a novel by Nicholas Sparks who has written
two quite terrible potboilers: this
one, and “Message in a Bottle,” which was subsequently turned into
one of the worst movies of its year. Hollywood
loves to hand bestsellers to big stars in the hope that their wattage will
overwhelm the mediocrity of the material. A bad script usually dooms even the best of them.
(James Garner) visits Allie in a nursing home, reading gently to her from a
story of first love that occasionally brings her back to the present from
wherever her mind has taken her. The
story, of flirting and love making, unfolds at a repetitive, sleep-inducing pace
until finally we realize these poor actors have nothing to work with.
are not helped by Rachel McAdams as the young lover in a performance that
alternates between shrill laughter and overcooked despair.
Ryan Gosling plays her suitor well enough. His departure for New York leaves young Allie home in the
south, ripe to fall in love with a rich young southern boy more appropriate to
her parents’ tastes.
is played by the wonderful Joan Allen, whose tight-lipped ferocity tells us she
probably understands well that she chose the wrong movie.
The appropriate fiancé loves his lady dearly and is decent right down to
are flashes of the real Gena Rowlands, but she is airbrushed to a mask, and we
miss the lifelines of her own expression. Mr.
Cassavetes, who learned his art at the knees of his richly talented parents, has
had problems directing his mother before (remember
“Unhook the Stars?”), but still he is accomplished as an actor and
director. The blame here doesn’t
really belong to cast and crew, but to the author who seems unable to think or
write anything beyond the obvious. At
mid point, anyone who hasn’t predicted the outcome is seriously impaired. Worst of all, author Sparks seems to be saving his ending as
an abrupt surprise.
Notebook” is what we think of as a summer book, and as is often the case, it
is empty - undefined, undistinguished, a wrong step for everyone concerned –
especially those of us who take the time to see it.
It is also sentimental, the last resort of authors who write on the
surface of things. Alas, Mr. Sparks, perhaps another profession?
Copyright (c) Illusion
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