The Notebook is the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks (A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle) tear-jerker. That pretty much says it all. Mr. Sparks is effective at playing his audience like marionettes, pushing emotional buttons that leave viewers hunched in their seats, lips quivering, wiping away tears.
There's undoubtedly an audience for this sort of thing, and that audience should be happy with The Notebook (rated PG-13 for some sexuality; a couple of scenes tread dangerously close to an R rating), which arrives in theaters on June 25.
The movie begins with a shot of a lone man rowing a boat. The scene is at sunset, so the man and boat are only an outline against a bright orange sky. The scene seems to exist just to look pretty, like the front of a Hallmark card. This sense, that vague emotion is more important than a concrete narrative, characterizes the film.
The story is told in flashback. The great James Garner reads the handwritten story of two young lovers to Gena Rowlands, who suffers from an Alzheimer's-like disease that is destroying her memory. Will audiences be shocked to discover how this elderly couple is connected to the young protagonists in the love story? Only, perhaps, if this is their first movie-going experience-and probably not even then.
Allie (Rachel McAdams) comes from a rich family. Noah (Ryan Gosling) works in a lumber mill. They fall in love, but Fate does not smile on their young passion. OK, Fate ultimately wants to see them together, it just has to throw up some heartbreaking obstacles to strengthen their love and add length to the story.
That may sound cynical. The Notebook is beautifully filmed and well acted. There are poignant scenes that are sure to resonate with many. But a smaller number will swallow the whole thing, hook, line, and sinker.