The Notebook opens in a place where few other movies go: A nursing home. Here an aging James Garner plays a resident who, other than having a history of heart attacks, appears competent enough to live independently. Yet on this day, his sole activity is to read from an old notebook to an elderly lady played by Gena Rowlands.
At first she resists listening to him, but his insistence eventually engages her interest--and hopefully the audience's as well. Traveling back to1940, the unfolding story is one of young love between a society girl named Allie Nelson (Rachel McAdams), and Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), a lumberyard worker.
After meeting the blonde in the small southern community where Allie's family takes up temporary summer residence, Noah is completely smitten. Begging for her notice by crawling up the Ferris wheel she's riding with her date, Noah finally gets Allie's attention. Soon the pair are spending every possible moment together and sharing in each other's future plans.
But dreams and reality are seldom friends. Allie's mom (Joan Allen) doesn't warm to the idea of her well-heeled daughter marrying a man whose only goal is to fix up a ramshackle beachfront mansion on the edge of town. At the end of the season the couple parts ways. Allie heads for school and Noah goes to fight in the war.
Despite writing her every day for the first year they're apart, Noah hears nothing from Allie. Adding to his heartbreak is the loss of his best friend on the front lines, and his father's (Sam Shepard) untimely death shortly after his homecoming. All alone, the discharged soldier pours his grief into restoring the old house, while seeking shallow comfort in booze and sex with a near-by widow woman.
The plot plays out with Garner's narrative interrupting now and again. When the film cuts back to him, it becomes obvious Rowlands's character is suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's. Ahead of them, and us, are the answers to the many questions--the least not being, "What ever happen to Noah and Allie?" The capable performances and somewhat mysterious setup should leave anyone who enjoys the "chick flic" genre wanting to know the outcome.
Yet, this movie just misses its target, especially for family viewing, for much the same reason as far too many other romances. Although we're often told of the incredible love Noah and Allie have for each other, the evidence of that attraction is most often portrayed in breathless kisses and a couple of sexual interludes, which are needlessly detailed. The script is devoid of the sorts of bonding moments needed to convince us of a relationship able to survive "for better or worse."
What The Notebook does do well is convey the tender feelings of geriatric people. This will undoubtedly appeal to older audiences who often feel estranged by mainstream cinema. Sadly, the inclusion of unnecessary sexual content may get this nice story (with an interesting although hardly unexpected twist) off on the wrong foot in bridging the generation gap.