The last novel-made-movie that sprang from Nicholas Spark’s loins was A Walk to Remember, the oh-so-saccharine melodrama starring the ever-effervescent Mandy Moore, who, though no Hepburn, seems better suited to celluloid than CDs. A Walk to Remember is, in a word, forgettable. That’s because the characters themselves are forgettable, die-cast replicas of characters we’ve already seen in better (or sometimes worse) films and books. A surly, archetypical “bad boy” meets a plain, bible-thumping girl? And she transforms him? No shit?
The Notebook, even from the trailer, struck as me as decidedly different, however, in that it seemed to endeavor to be a period piece, a coming-of-age love story set in the nostalgiac 40s rather than a smarmy slumber party movie that drowns in its own sloppy contemporanæity. I had my misgivings from the beginning, however: based on the trailer, The Notebook seemed awfully expansive…. too expansive to make a successful jump to a movie medium.
How right I was. Perhaps Spark’s book was better developed, but the exposition of the movie was erratic and unfulfilling. We are introduced to the present day, where a well-chosen but woefully untapped James Garner plays a jolly nursing home patient that reads to an old woman with senile dementia. Unsurprisingly, the book he reads ends up being the main flashback, and Garner’s smoky timbre explicates the summer romance of one Noah and Allison. Unfortunately for the viewer, Noah and Allison, while well-acted, suffer from poor writing. Again, Sparks creates male and female polar opposites, the former an earthy lumberyard worker making $.40 an hour, and the latter a traditional young lady from old Southern money. No sooner are these introductions made than Garner’s narration skips us forward far enough for their relationship to suddenly be established, and again and then again, so that we don’t get any sense of development, only snapshots of these two strangers.
The rest of the movie is worse in this respect: years pass at a time, from clichè to clichè (a war scene that lasts all of 45 seconds; just long enough to fulfill the typical war scene expectations), and each time the movie introduces different stages of the characters, whose depths are never truly plumbed. In this respect, the film is completely unsatisfying, which is unfortunate, because there was a lot of potential here.
The film’s biggest mistake was the generous use of the present day, when it becomes obvious —without the movie’s assistance— that James Garner and his senile female are our two lovers. The last scene of flashback is supposed to be a moment of tension (“Oh golly gee, who did she pick?”), but it became very apparent, less than halfway through the movie, who our starlet ended up with, because they mention her last name. Oops. Even more awkward is the next-to-ending scene, wherein we learn apparently that elderly folks with senile dementia can just… snap out of it and remember everything about their lives, but for only for a limited time, of course. Despite this somewhat grievous error with regards to medical science, the film could have still been an enjoyable work had it ended there, a quiet but very sad ending and reminder of the frailty of human beings. At the post-climax fade to black, I thought to myself, “You know, this really wasn’t too bad…” and then they tack on the worst 6 or 7 minutes of the movie. I won’t spoil what happens, but needless to say that a tender ending was turned into ridiculous, smarmy pabulum.
The Notebook had a lot of potential, but suffered from the dreaded clichès that plague romantic drama: passionate scenes in the rain, awkward sex scenes, and downright implausible scenarios. It really is a shame.