THE NOTEBOOK — ** — Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner; rated PG-13 (sex, violence, profanity, brief partial nudity, brief drugs); see Page W2 for theaters.
"The Notebook" is every bit as formulaic, manipulative and treacly as every other movie that's been adapted from a Nicholas Sparks best seller. But that's to be expected, considering how formulaic, manipulative and treacly the source material is to begin with.
That's not meant to spoil the film for anyone who hasn't read a Sparks novel or seen one of the other features based on one of his works.
However, those who have will know what to expect from this one. And this kind of predictable, contrived melodrama is welcome fare for some — it's a form of cinematic "comfort food."
For the rest of us, its quaint style of storytelling will probably be too trite and sappy, if not a bit distasteful. Also, there's no question that it squanders the talents of a very good cast.
That includes Ryan Gosling, who stars as Noah Calhoun, a South Carolina country boy caught up in a summer romance with wealthy Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) before the start of World War II.
Their respective economic standings present a huge obstacle to their love, as do Allie's disapproving parents (Joan Allen and David Thornton). And to her surprise, so does Noah, who decides to let her go for her own good.
But that doesn't stop him from obsessing about his lost love, especially when he encounters her years later and discovers that she's engaged to another man, the well-to-do Lon Hammond Jr. (James Marsden, bland as usual).
This star-crossed lovers stuff is pretty cornball as it is, but the filmmakers lay it on thick with a present-day story line in which an elderly man (James Garner) reads this particular tale to a woman (Gena Rowlands) who is suffering from dementia. (To entirely blame screenwriter Jan Sardi is unfair, considering that he's simply adapting Sparks.)
Some people may find a movie this maudlin refreshing, especially compared to most of this summer's emotionally deprived fare. But it just feels so routine, and director Nick Cassavetes' pacing is so sluggish the film feels longer than it is.
On the plus side, the camera adores up-and-coming actress McAdams, who has a winning presence, and it's nice to see screen veterans Garner and Rowlands again, even if it is in something as routine as this.
"The Notebook" is rated PG-13 for scenes of simulated sex and other sexual contact, wartime violence (shootings and bombings), scattered use of profanity, brief glimpses of partial female nudity, and brief drug content (use of a sedative). Running time: 121 minutes.