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The Notebook

Experiencing it more than a decade after its release, I was curious to see if 2004's The Notebook would live up to its reputation as a cult classic in the romance genre and I am happy to report that it did in spades.

This star-crossed romance with a contemporary face lift opens with a nursing home resident (the late James Garner) visiting another resident (Gena Rowlands) and continuing to read a story to her that he apparently started long before our story begins. We then flashback to a 1940's summer where a young factory worker named Noah (Ryan Gosling) meets and is instantly entranced by a beauty named Allie (Rachel McAdams) at a local carnival. After a rocky start, Noah and Allie fall in love but are eventually torn apart by Allie's wealthy family who use the excuse that she is going to college in New York as justification to keep her away from Noah, who they merely consider trailer trash and not worthy of their daughter.

Based on a bestseller by Nicholas Sparks, this riveting love story found memories of movies like Gone with the Wind, Splendor in the Grass,The Way We Were, and Titanic coming to mind as we watched two people experience immediate sparks but are kept apart by various forms of circumstance and even though we are completely behind this romance from the beginning, we know the road to their happiness is going to get ugly. This is confirmed when we are informed through Garner's narration when the couple finally admits to being in love with each other, but we're only twenty minutes into the film.

Director Nick Cassavetes, whose previous directorial credits include action-filled dramas like Alpha Dog, surprises with a delicate hand at mounting a romantic melodrama that provides all the classic landmarks in a story but provides a few surprises along the way as well. Cassavetes reveals a sharp eye for what is romantic and erotic without being tasteless...the scene of their first attempt at lovemaking in an empty house where she is tentatively removing her clothes and with every piece she removes, he rips something off or their canoe ride where they caught in the rain are undeniably moving...Cassavetes brings a surprising sensitivity to the sexy here and leaves us wanting more.

Needless to say, the film is given a huge boost by the magical performances by the leads. With each performance of his, Ryan Gosling continues to prove that he is more than a pretty face and lovely body, delivering a performance of charm and strength that puts us completely behind the character. Rachel McAdams, another actress who I always thought was a one-trick pony like Amy Adams, is an effervescent leading lady who keeps this character likable despite some unlikable behavior in her character. James Marsden trues to come between our stars the same way he tried to break up Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted. The late Sam Shepherd scores as Noah's dad and there is a razor sharp turn from the always watchable Joan Allen as Allie's mother.

Of course, Garner and Rowlands are absolutely heartbreaking and the film is beautifully mounted. There is exquisite attention to period detail and I must applaud Robert Frasee's cinematography, Chuck Potter's set direction, and Karyn Wagner's lovely period costumes. If you're a fan of romantic melodrama, this is a classic not to be missed.