See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Notebook

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 2004 at 12:00 AM

The Notebook is an old-fashioned movie of a particular sort — it’s an old-fashioned bad movie. It aims to be a heartbreaker, but the plight of its characters is more risible than miserable. Adapted from a novel by Nicholas Spark (whose Message in a Bottle was turned into a bloated Kevin Costner soaper), it’s a maudlin melodrama that ineptly tries to revive old clichés that could be better played for laughs.

The film moves between the present — featuring James Garner and Gena Rowlands as seniors in an old folks home — and the ’40s — featuring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as the star-crossed lovers Noah and Allie. Garner is reading the story of the lovers to Rowlands, who’s suffering from some sort of movie dementia where she has no memory of the past except during rare moments of lucidity. It’s soon apparent that Garner is reading her the story of their mutual past, hoping to evoke some spark of recognition as she treats him like a genial stranger.

Nothing about the flashbacks, which make up the bulk of the movie, has any semblance of verisimilitude — it’s like a past cobbled together from badly remembered old movies. Gosling is a farm boy who lives with his wise and folksy father (the character, played by Sam Shepard, is woefully underdeveloped), while McAdams is a city girl whose well-to-do parents are appalled that she would fall for this déclassé hick. Her mother (Joan Allen) embodies patrician disdain, while her father (David Thornton) has an absurd mustache that’s tightly curled at each end and seems made for villainous twirling, though he manages to restrain himself.

As if that weren’t enough, Noah and Allie’s love is interrupted by World War II, represented by a sequence so brief that you begin to wonder if the film might have had budgetary problems. Allie’s evil mom intercepts Noah’s letters to Allie and so, on the rebound, she marries somebody more appropriate for her class and station, a charmer (James Marsden) who all but has “cad” stamped on his forehead. But true love will prevail because it’s that kind of movie.

The film is directed by Nick Cassavetes, son of John, and it’s as dully conventional as his father’s movies were boldly eccentric (Rowlands, of course, is Nick’s mom, and we can assume that she’s just being supportive). Still, one gets the impression that this could have been a very sad story if it weren’t so poorly done, so ridiculous and so badly written. It’s hard not to be moved by the film’s first climax, just as it’s hard not to groan at its second one. But by then you’re just glad it’s over.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Richard C. Walls

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit