- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

“The Notebook” gives us two romances for the price of a single ticket. Neither yarn will demand repeat viewings, but this sort of unrepentant heart-tugger could draw a sizable female crowd this time of year.

Just how vulnerable viewer tear ducts will be depends on how deeply they fall for the twin leads. Director Nick Cassavetes (2002’s “John Q”) doesn’t take any risks here, stacking the deck with rain-soaked embraces, heartfelt poetry readings and the kind of culture clash that led to Romeo and Juliet’s demise.

Based on Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel “The Notebook,” the film casts James Garner as an avuncular retiree named Duke who spends his days reading a love story to a fellow nursing home resident (Gena Rowlands, the director’s mother) from a worn notebook.

Duke may be old, but he retains the mind of a much younger man. His companion isn’t so fortunate. She suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, which has rendered her past a cottony blur.

Duke’s tale, set just before World War II, becomes the pulse of this cliche-laden “Notebook.”

He tells of young Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), a poor teen who just won’t take no for an answer when he asks out Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams).

The couple fight, flirt and then fall madly in love, even though their backgrounds couldn’t be more dissimilar.

Their summer romance ends when her monied parents (Joan Allen and David Thornton) put their prissy feet down to make sure their daughter doesn’t marry beneath her station.

The split and the onset of war threaten to keep the lovers apart.

Movie-style coincidences convene to bring them together one last time, even though Allie is engaged to another man and Noah has become a bearded hermit slaving away on his dream house.

We’re drawn back to the old couple periodically, if only to see Miss Rowlands feign delight at the unfolding story.

If only we were so enthralled.

Chemistry is an elusive element in a love concoction like “The Notebook.” The young lovers certainly possess it during their initial courtship, but the passage of time serves as a calming agent.

The story is pushed forward seven years at one point, but Mr. Gosling’s immature mug can’t convince us that so much as a day has passed. Miss McAdams fares better as a blossoming young lady — her charm could find a home in any era. Coming on the heels of her whip-smart turn as the meanest of “Mean Girls,” her performance makes her seem a worthy addition to Hollywood’s ongoing starlet competition.

Miss Rowlands’ character suffers from Hollywood-style dementia, rendering her adorable and opportunistically lucid. Still, both she and Mr. Garner exude a grace and bearing that gives the lightweight material a solid base.

Nick Cassavetes may be the son of maverick filmmaker John Cassavetes, but his directorial choices lean heavily on sap.

“The Notebook,” shot through a thick romantic gauze, will let viewers revisit a simpler time, when romantic film cliches were fresh and new.

**1/2

WHAT: “The Notebook”

RATING: PG:13 (Several sexual situations, mild violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Nick Cassavetes. Written by Jan Sardi based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Produced by Mark Johnson and Lynn Harris.

RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes

WEB SITE: www.thenotebookmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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