It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
'The Notebook" cuts between the same couple at two seasons in their lives. We see them in the urgency of young romance, and then we see them as old people, she disappearing into the shadows of Alzheimer's, he steadfast in his love. It is his custom every day to read to her from a notebook that tells the story of how they met and fell in love and faced obstacles to their happiness. Sometimes, he says, if only for a few minutes, the clouds part and she is able to remember who he is and who the story is about.
We all wish Alzheimer's could permit such moments. For a time, in the earlier stages of the disease, it does. But when the curtain comes down, there is never another act and the play is over. "The Notebook" is a sentimental fantasy, but such fantasies are not harmful; we tell ourselves stories every day, to make life more bearable. The reason we cried during "Terms of Endearment" was not because the mother was dying, but because she was given the opportunity for a dignified and lucid parting with her children. In life it is more likely to be pain, drugs, regret and despair.
The lovers are named Allie Nelson and Noah Calhoun, known as Duke. As old people they're played by Gena Rowlands and James Garner. As young people, by Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. The performances are suited to the material, respecting the passion at the beginning and the sentiment at the end, but not pushing too hard; there is even a time when young Noah tells Allie, "I don't see how it's gonna work," and means it, and a time when Allie gets engaged to another man.
She's a rich kid, summering at the family's mansion in North Carolina. He's a local kid who works at the sawmill but is smart and poetic. Her parents are snobs. His father (Sam Shepard) is centered and supportive. Noah loves her the moment he sees her, and actually hangs by his hands from a bar on a Ferris wheel until she agrees to go out with him. Her parents are direct: "He's trash. He's not for you." One day her mother (Joan Allen) shows her a local working man, who looks hard-used by life, and tells Allie that 25 years ago she was in love with him. Allie thinks her parents do not love each other, but her mother insists they do; still, Allen is such a precise actress that she is able to introduce the quietest note of regret into the scene.