Mad Maud has a thing about James Garner. It’s an obsession that sits nicely alongside all her other ones, gets us doused in weekly bouts of The Rockford Files and Maverick, and the occasional afternoon of filmic joy. The Great Escape is an oldie but goodie, with a nice turn by JG, but nothing really insightful for Generation Zimmer. The Notebook on the other hand, using dementia as its frame, teases us with an aged JG reading a love-story to a tangibly forgetful Gena Rowlands…
And the love story is peopled by sharp-jawed and boyish Ryan Gosling (Noah) and the passionate and pretty Rachel McAdams (Allie). So…guess who JG and La Rowlands are playing, pootling about the lawns of the care home a lifetime later?
Maud was disappointed by the film as it didn’t spend a lot of time with the oldsters. Sure there are lovely scenes of Garner explaining what he is reading to Rowlands from his notebook, her remembering for a moment, forgetting, then hearing the story all over again. The truth isn’t so much hidden in plain sight as shouted at you from minute 1. Indeed, the meat of the story is spent in the past, a long time before Alzheimer’s comes to destroy things, and is pretty damned linear. How else could we get to the care home?
Of yesteryear, things are brightly lit and kinda lovely. Allie is a rich kid; Noah is a determined poor one. He catches sight of her and pursues love with boyish charm – from dangling off a Ferris wheel until she agrees to a date to pretty much every other scene they share. Noah is set on fixing up an old house that stands as a symbol of his hopes: roughly treated but they get there. Allie is barged out-of-town and into other loves by a snobby family – and is something of a bitch in her treatment of monied beau Lon Hammond played by the less sharply jawed James Marsden. A chance re-encounter with newly bearded Noah and off rushes Allie, away from her engagement, to a second summer of love. Only this time there’s full-on rumpity-pumpity and breaking of hearts.
Yesteryear is lovely, surprise-free, and made pleasant by emotionally-charged performances. Nearly. A crisis scene, full of “but, Allie, what do you want” pleadings from Gosling’s Noah, goes way too far. We see pretension rather than character for the best part of five minutes…you’ll be pulled right out of the film. Okay, I was. Mad Maud was cursing the lack of Garner.
SPOILERS for the stupid… And then back to the forgetful present, poor old Allie and poor supportive old Noah. And a manipulative, Alzheimer’s-as-plot-point ending that manages to be touching, obvious and dull. Garner gives a terrific performance, simple and real, funny and knowing, which goes some way to compensate for the film’s apparent message: youth is challenging and sexy; old age is awful and sooooo saaaaaaaad.
Okay – The Notebook is two watchable films stapled together. Neither are much more than mini-series fare of the 1980s. Neither yanked much in the way of emotion from old Jack or – Rockford yearnings aside – from Maud. The young cast – all pretty and in love – are as watchable as the old. Gosling and McAdams are plainly on their way, career-wise. Rowlands gives good lost soul; Garner gives good star-at-work. And…that’s it, really.
Watch this on a sunny afternoon, when you need a bit of a fantasy wrapped around the awfulness of dementia. Where Remember (2015) slapped you with its misuse of the disease, The Notebook tickles you with coincidence and improbabilities, a certain quaint Americana and the great lie that love can be remembered through a disintegrating mind.
Get thee to Netflix.