Nicholas Sparks isn't a great writer, in my honest opinion. He struck gold with the film's namesake (The Notebook), and just kept pumping out the same story over and over again, regardless of character. If it's two white Southerners who fall in love under difficult circumstances, then its a Sparks novel/film. Sort of like Stephen King with horror movies: i.e. if its kids who live in Derry, ME, unearth an Indian burial mound and the parents are abusive Christians, then its a King novel/movie.
The film is no different but despite my distaste for Sparks' body of work, this film was a huge success and has apparently stood the test of time.... so far.
Set in modern day (Circa 2004) Duke is an elderly man (Played by the late, great James Garner) who makes his regular visit to an elderly female patient suffering from dementia (Gena Rowlands, mother of director Nick Cassavettes) to tell her stories from the 1940's.
We then cut to 1940s South Carolina, where a young teenager named Noah (Ryan Gosling in his breakout role) is smitten with new girl Allie (Rachel McAdams), and desperately tries to get her attention. After threatening to kill himself from the top of a Ferris Wheel (Real romantic....), they slowly fall for each other and have a summer romance.
Unfortunately the romance is short lived when her parents dislike of Noah due to his lack of wealth and they pack up to return to Charleston, SC, their original home. Noah is desperate for her love, and Allie desperately wants Noah but her mother hides her letters away the Noah sent everyday for year, just to keep them apart.
Noah joins WWII over in Europe, while Allie becomes a nurse for wounded soldiers and falls for a soldier named Lon (James Marsden) and they plan to wed. Noah spies the couple after returning home to South Caroline, and in order to reacquire their love, he buys a house he promised to buy Allie hoping to win her back.
Allie visits Noah and that's when the crucial decision between young love and new love come to a head. Will she choose a man named after a the builder of the Ark or Cyclops?
If you have seen every chick flick, romantic film or any film, rather, you know where this is headed. Predictable, saccharin, overly saturated and not good for you at all. But once in a while its ok to indulge.
Let me start with the acting, firstly Ryan Gosling. Is there anything this man can't do (besides starring in The Lovely Bones but that's another review for another time) extremely well? He is likable, charming and acts beyond his years. Rachel McAdams, was a relative newcomer, only knowing her at the time from The Hot Chick and Mean Girls and is pretty good here, matching with Gosling remarkably well.
The real showstoppers are Garner and Rowlands, as Duke and the patient. I loved the emotion and effort they put into their rather small roles but man I wish the whole film was about their blossoming romance instead of reverting back to the 1940s.
The direction by Nick Cassavettes is another issue. Sure he lends the look of the film an appropriately Southern feel, warm glowing colors, rustic roads and houses and also directs his actors with aplomb but as a whole the film is uneven. A more skilled director could've smoothly transitioned from the modern day to the past, instead of jarring cuts that go from a hospital to Europe, in the heat of battle.
The screenplay, by Jeremy Leven, is equally problematic, with sluggish pacing, sugary dialogue and all around predictable. The score provided by Aaron Zigman is syrupy-maudlin at its finest, and with the addition of the golden hour cinematography c/o Robert Fraisse all add up to a movie so sweet, that it's been known to cause diabetes.
But.... I must admit I do like the movie. I really do. Mainly due to the Rowlands/Garner angle but McAdams and Gosling also make the film work and sell the living daylights out of the movie. I have seen better romance films (Ghost, Pretty Woman, etc.), but watching it with your loved one(s) makes it that much more likable, and therefore watchable. Just not too much or you'll regurgitate.
As for the BluRay, we move along to the PQ/AQ. Shot on 35mm film, the film is rather good on the PQ, with the colors popping off the screen, exceptionally sharp details, and the constant glow from the summer sun shine on your TV/monitior. The audio, though not as showy as the picture, it does what it does and does it well. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is accurate and on point, centered for the most part, but picks up steam when there is the hustle and bustle of a busy street, music plays, the short time spent in WWII, and a few other scenes offer a nice experience, just not a demo worthy experience.
Moving on to the extras, we start off with 2 commentaries, one with the director and the other with author Nicholas Sparks. Next up are 28 minutes worth of deleted scenes. After that are 4 featurettes, starting with All in the Family (12 min.). The featurette is about the director, talking about his career, his filmmaking style, and so on and so forth. Southern Exposure (12 min.) talks about the sets and locations used in the film.
A Simple Story, Well Told (7 min.) talks about the life and career of Nicholas Sparks, albeit very briefly. Last, and certainly least according to the runtime of 4 minutes, is Casting Ryan & Rachel. This deals with the casting of the two young leads. Finishing up the extras are the audition tapes of Rachel McAdams and the films trailer. Pretty solid, though not exceptional... just like the film.
All in all, this is a decent film, overrated but still charming, with great picture and sound, along with some decent extras that gives some insight about the film. $10 or less if you can find it cheaply and comes recommended to the romantic in your life.