July 30, 2013

The Notebook (2004)
Grade: 48/100

Director: Nick Cassavetes
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Marsden

What it's about. Set in the 1940s. Poor romantic dufus Ryan Gosling conquers hottie rich girl Rachel McAdams, infuriating her unpleasant mother Joan Allen, who forces them to break up. McAdams becomes engaged with cool rich guy James Marsden but, of course, still pines for the dufus, who, because it is a movie, now lives in a lakeside mansion.

How others will see it. The movie returned multiples of its budget at the box office and has been a hit on video. Reviews were at best mixed. The film was generally ignored by the festival circuit except by the Teen Choice Awards, which showered it with trophies. At imdb, it has a spectacular 243K votes and a whopping 7.9 user rating. Women under 18 grade it highest (8.6) but even men over 45 grade it 7.5.

How I felt about it. This movie is a good demonstration of Truth versus Marketing. A Truth title for it would be Slick and Bogus Romance by the Numbers. Alas, such a title would be a box office disaster, hence The Notebook, which finally shows up near the end of the movie and has little to do with its story. The film was a box office smash and has become a huge video hit. Marketing wins over Truth once again. The only good news is that films like this allow Hollywood to overcome its many fiascos.

This movie has so many things wrong with it that to explain them all would require a review longer than a Tolstoy novel. It's true that most of them are individually minor. But each one is annoying in its own way.

What is most annoying? Ryan Gosling's impersonation of Nicolas Cage from Raising Arizona without realizing that film was a comedy? Gosling's 1967 hairstyle in a scene from 1947? Gosling hanging from one arm, risking his death, to prove his love to a girl with a date he had just seen for the first time a couple of minutes before?

What about the abandoned lakefront mansion? One like that in every small Southern town, eh? With the piano left behind? Sam Shephard buys it, without consulting his son, with what, his used poetry books? And how can Gosling afford to fix it up, furnish it, and pay property taxes on it? The G.I. Bill was that lucrative? And he is offered 50K for it, which is nearly a million bucks in 2004 dollars, and he turns it down because of his memories of almost laying McAdams there? Actually, he chases the would-be buyer away with a shotgun, which is a felony, except in a movie.

We are supposed to believe that Gosling and Shephard spend their evenings sitting on the porch reading poetry to each other? A father and his grown son in the South?

How about Gosling writing a letter every day for a year without an answer to a woman that he had broken up with. He has one battle scene in World War II, and of course his buddy dies in it. All that is missing is the line "I can't feel my legs," which, if uttered, would at least have been funny.

McAdams makes love with her pearl necklace and dangly earrings on? She drives a car into a fence and suddenly it won't start? Why would she turn the ignition off? Gosling makes the front page of a newspaper in a distant town because his house looks nice?

Director Nick Cassavetes (talent for directing is apparently not inherited) must have seen The Color Purple, since it turns out that Joan Allen saved all of Gosling's letters after all. This is unlikely enough. What is outright ridiculous is that she would take the letters with her to Podunkville to give to her daughter when she is deciding whether to marry the Perfect Rich Man or the Dorky Blue Collar Man. Who somehow turns into James Garner.

Gena Rowlands has an unusual form of senility. She remembers no one, neither from the past or present, yet is well mannered, has excellent command of English, and can play the piano from sheet music. Then, miraculously, she remembers it all! Then forgets it all again one minute later. One can imagine doctors watching this movie and shaking their heads in disbelief.

The scene I really disliked, though, was when the descendants of the elderly couple stand at attention, at a distance, until the nurse waves them in. They are extras in their own family. Such close attention to costumes and cinematography, and such poor attention to credible direction.

In one scene, Rowlands has a panic attack, and moments later, two nurses and a doctor magically appear. The doctor even has a hyperdermic prepared! They can foresee the immediate future!

The message is that Every Person Has Exactly One True Love. Though only if they are exceptionally attractive. True, everyone realizes, deep down, that this message is nonsense, that there are plenty of compatible mates out there, and most people lose their "greatest love" somewhere between junior high and college. But there is a large audience who wants to hear the pretty lies anyway.

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