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(4 1/2 ) A Well Acted, Old Fashioned, Romantic Tearjerker,
This screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' bestseller is a deeply emotional story of young love, the process of maturity, the crucial choices in our lives, and the frailty of old age. I have not read the book, and thus cannot comment upon the fealty of this film to Sparks' manuscript, but its emotional tone and import is certainly consistent with his other works with which I am familiar. In the opening scene we meet Duke (James Garner), who resides in a nursing home and apparently spends most of his time befriending another resident there, Allie Calhoun (Gena Rowlands), who is captivated by a 1940's story of young love which he reads in installments to her from THE NOTEBOOK which is his constant companion. Allie is suffering from some variety of dementia and these interludes provide some small comfort to an otherwise apparently colorless and bland existence.
The moviegoer is then transported to the 1940's, and the relatively brief appearances of the elderly Duke's and Allie alternate within the film with the enactment of the story contained in THE NOTEBOOK. That story is centered in Seabrook, N.C., where a local young man named Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) is captivated by a beautiful summer visitor from Charleston named Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams). (Of course, the viewer immediately wonders if indeed this notebook contains the story of the elderly Allie's life, and if so what part Duke will play.) As you no doubt have guessed, since this is an old fashioned romance they eventually fall in love. The relationship is eventually ended by Allie's mother Anne (wonderfully played by Joan Allen), who, in order to separate her society daughter from the local boy whose career aspirations are success in the local lumberyard, forces an early family return to Charleston to prepare for Allie's freshman year at college. (Do not judge Anne Hamilton too early in this film, however!)
The war years intervene, and Noah, with the help of his poetry loving small town father Frank (Sam Shepard) who has taught him to appreciate the beauty of Walt Whitman's work, withdraws into himself and concentrates on the restoration of the tumbledown waterfront mansion that he had once hoped to share with Allie. Meanwhile, she meets and gradually becomes attracted to a wounded veteran, Lon ( James Marsden); since he is both handsome and rich their eventual marriage seems preordained. However, fate intervenes with a wonderfully deft touch and suddenly the lives of Allie and Noah intersect again. We then watch as Allie is forced to decide whether someone can recapture their past or if only the memories remain after the fork in the road has been taken? Her dilemma is clear, Lon is the apparent right choice, yet - her wonderful interlude with Noah never had a proper conclusion.
This is a movie to attend when you want to bathe in your sentimentality, yet there are enough bittersweet moments to keep the viewer from being overwhelmed by the sickly sweetness that often is the result of such cinematic ventures. The acting is excellent, the story is told with restraint, and the cinematography is wonderful. My favorite visual scene was when Noah takes Allie out in a boat on the lake to his secret spot with all the swans; I found it breathtakingly beautiful. Interestingly enough, despite the film's two hour length most of the audience stayed in their seats talking or contemplating the conclusion when it ended and the credits rolled. Why not five stars? Two reasons, first, I am not sure that the movie quite achieves my usual criteria for that rating, wanting to own the DVD and view it multiple times. Second, I found the conclusion a little too contrived in an attempt to bring closure to both the characters and the audience. One final note, read the inscription on the flyleaf of THE NOTEBOOK carefully at the conclusion, it completely explains the origin and its power to entrance Allie.(...)