The Notebook (2004)

Viewed June 12

 

When it comes to matters of the heart, a young woman growing up in the South must choose between practicality and unrelenting passion. 

Known for their live-wire, borderline-unhinged collaborations, John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands were one of the most famous director/star pairs in 20th century American film. They produced a type of freewheeling, independent cinema that always promised to be, if nothing else, unrelentingly honest. Here we have Rowlands working with a different Cassavetes in the director's chair--her son with the great maverick, Nick Cassavetes. And the results are, on the surface, very different. However, when you look at things through a slightly different lens, some of it starts looking surprisingly familiar. Now, first, Gena Rowlands is not the female lead of The Notebook. That would be Rachel MacAdams, who does a tremendous job opposite Ryan Gosling. But as the film goes on, it's Rowlands who becomes the heart of things and the presence that elevates it all above the type of sap so often associated with the source novel's author, melodrama-meister Nicholas Sparks. What makes Rowland's performance especially potent is that Nick Cassavetes diminishes his own voice in the storytelling so that the actress is not competing with a male director's supposedly-stripped-down-but-actually-highly-stylized aesthetic predilections. The Notebook is a sensitive, classically-told Hollywood tale lacking in newfangled razzmatazz. But, as mentioned, it still deals intimately with many of themes threaded through the classic Cassavetes/Rowlands films, such as passion, love, and mental illness. Given the space to perform the type of beautiful, intelligent, yet fraught character she's specialized in without the on-screen competition from the director's style, Rowlands delivers one of her most great performances. When she recognizes her love, it's real. When she forgets her love and lashes out, it's tragedy.