Plodding, sugary clichés fill "The Notebook"

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Nick Cassavetes' "The Notebook" is a generic, Hallmark-card romance/weepie, right down to the slow-motion birds flying into the sunset as a gentle piano tinkles. (Why are the birds in slow motion? Because it takes longer that way. Everything in this movie seems to take forever, except World War II, which passes by in a flash, like an inconvenient visitor who needs to be quickly shown the door.)

Anyway, the film, based on Nicholas Sparks' popular novel, tells two parallel love stories, told in two different time periods. In the contemporary one, an elderly man (James Garner) reads a romance to an elegant, confused woman (Gena Rowlands), as it seems to calm her anxieties. (She has the sort of dementia popular among filmmakers and novelists, in that it appears only when convenient for the story.) The story he reads is that of Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams), who meet and fall in love in 1940.

Their romance seems doomed, because of Allie's controlling, wealthy parents ("He's trash! Not for you!" says Mom), and because ... well, things take a long time in this movie. (It's sort of a slow-motion romance, constantly interrupted.) So there's plenty of time to ponder Gosling's naughty smile — his Noah is charmingly amused with himself — or the movie's seemingly endless supply of clichéd lovers' dialogue, or all the pretty art-direction details, like the fact that a flower Noah gives Allie one morning perfectly matches the blanket she's wrapped herself in.

It's all sweet and gooey and absolutely predictable, in a bland TV-movie sort of way, with an ending so shameless it should come with an apology. Rowlands (who, incidentally, is the director's mother — didn't she raise him for better things than this?) has a few haunting moments — her eyes are emptied out, her expression still and sad. It's a performance that belongs in a more honest movie. By the end of "The Notebook's" interminable two hours, the only tears that spring to mind are of relief.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

Movie review

"The Notebook," with Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Sam Shepard, Joan Allen. Directed by Nick Cassavetes, from a screenplay by Jeremy Leven, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality. Several theaters.