If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and weeps like a duck and falls in love like a duck, don't expect it to suddenly transform into a zebra.
That's the lesson of Nick Cassavetes' latest film, The Notebook
. From the opening scene it proclaims itself unashamedly as a weepy, romantic, violin-playing duck, quacking out tales of love at the top of its lungs for two hours.
There are two overlapping love stories -- an old man and woman, played beautifully by James Garner and Gena Rowlands, who are reading a story in a notebook about another young man and woman, played by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Both couples' character dynamics are established right away and, once lit, they fire-and-burn in an unswerving straight line toward the finish. True love is forever, we're told, and The Notebook
keeps humming that mantra with nary a surprise in sight. This is not a film for cynics or suspicious types who expect plot twists to pop out at them.
Now, before you think I'm dismissing this genre in general, and this film in particular, let me say I enjoyed The Notebook
for what it was. It's a classic chick-flic, a simple, touching tale with great performances by its leads. Unlike other chick flics, however, this one has too much heart to fall into the male caricature cliche. Thankfully, the guys aren't shown to be either brutes or idiots. The worst that can be said is that the men stay the course from beginning to end without moving an inch, like emotional pylons stuck in place to be maneuvered around by Allie's character.
Allie's is the only journey that matters in this film, and Rachel McAdams sparkles onscreen. Allie is neither a victim or a willful rebel. She's an authentic girl on the verge of adulthood, struggling with the painful gear shift between being a good daughter and the irresistable heat of first love. McAdams is a natural, playing Allie's life as the inner conflict it really is, rather than some external showy act of petulance against her parents. I didn't doubt her for a minute throughout the film. When she squares off with her controlling Mom she is self-assured but still dependent; when she's with boyfriend Noah, she's madly in love yet physically tentative.
She is both emotionally immature and sexually playful, two refreshing changes from the over-written, stagey maturity of typical girl-heroes. It was great watching her throw a tantrum that wasn't a brilliant monologue, just as it was great watching her discover an insatiable sex drive that wasn't filmed for an audience's voyeurism. Any guy could understand falling for a real girl like Allie, and it was that quality that flavoured the film with enough sincerity to cover the hokeyness.
Ryan Gosling plays Noah as solidly as a rock, and with as much expression, but he is the fulcrum on which Allie has to jump, cry and shout and so the role is effective. Garner and Rowlands are undeniably sweet, and they rescue The Notebook
from insignificance by their presence as actors, and by the journey their characters take.