Generally speaking, romantic melodramas aren’t my cup of tea; I don’t read a lot of them and I usually wait for the DVD before seeing them in movie form. The Notebook was a bit different. Though I never read the best seller by Nicholas Sparks, when it was published towards the end of 1996, it seemed like every female I knew over the age of eighteen was reading it. Most of them told me the story was beautiful and left them in tears. I remained unmoved, having read and seen The Bridges of Madison County not long before that, I wanted nothing to do with another overwrought weeper. However, I recently discovered that The Notebook is truly a well written story of relationships and love; not just overused clichés and buckets of stale tears.

the_notebook.jpgAdapted by Jan Sardi (Shine) a screenplay by Jeremy Leven (The Legend of Bagger Vance), and direction by Nick Cassavetes (John Q), The Notebook has often been referred to as a “chick flick.” While I suppose that’s an apt description, I think many men will find something to appreciate about the film as well. An unapologetic tearjerker, the filmmakers have done an impressive job of telling the story from both the main female and male characters point of view.

James Garner stars as Duke; an elderly man living in a nursing home ho reads a story aloud to a fellow patient (Gena Rowlands). The woman is suffering from dementia and rarely remembers anything. Doctors have said her condition is irreversible but Duke believes otherwise; sincerely believing he can bring her memories back, if he just keeps reading the story from an old tattered notebook.

The story begins in 1940. At a carnival in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, local boy Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) sees seventeen-year-old heiress Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) for the first time and is immediately infatuated. She repeatedly refuses his persistent advances until their well-meaning friends lure them together; they get to know each other on a midnight walk through empty Seabrook. In a short time, the young couple falls deeply in love. While Noah’s father approves of the relationship (Sam Sheppard) Allie’s mother (Joan Allen) does everything she can to keep her daughter away from this boy with no money.

Under pressure from Allie’s parents, the two teenagers go their separate ways. Seven years pass and Allie has fallen in love again. Lon Hammond, Jr. (James Marsden) is everything Allie’s mother wants for her daughter; he’s “fabulously wealthy,” handsome and smart. Back in Seabrook Island, Noah has purchased and renovated a plantation mansion, the scene of one of his most romantic moments with Allie. He’s rejected all offers from others to buy the house, believing Allie would someday come back to him.

The film follows two different tracks: The flashbacks to the teenagers falling in love and the forces that would pull them apart and the elderly couple recounting their relationship with one another. Both relationships have their poignant moments but it’s the interactions between the elderly couple that will likely resonate with most viewers. Yes, The Notebook does have its share of romantic clichés but few would deny the emotional power of Duke trying to reconnect with his wife by reading her the story of their life. With the help of great actors like James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Sam Sheppard and Joan Allen, Nick Cassavetes has crafted a romantic drama that manages to remain grounded in reality, rather than sugar coated in fluff.

The Notebook is presented in a pretty good looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The detail in many scenes isn’t as good as a lot of viewers have likely come to expect, and while the colors and black levels are all solid and well rendered, overall this image could have looked a bit sharper. There is a small amount of edge enhancement in the transfer, though not enough to cause the viewer to notice once they’re engaged in the film.

Viewers have two audio options (5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo Surround Sound) with optional English and Spanish Subtitles. The 5.1 mix doesn’t over-use the rear speakers, but they are active at appropriate points, becoming noticeable during the brief war scenes. Voices, mainly in the center speaker, can occasionally sound a little low but for the most part, the audio is clear.

The Notebook: Limited Edition Giftset comes with quite a few extras.

Deleted/Alternate Scenes (27:17)
12 deleted scenes or alternate takes are included here in anamorphic widescreen, with optional commentary from the editor Alan Heim. There’s a lot here, but it’s mostly worth a look.
Commentary by Nick Cassavetes
The director talks mainly about casting the actors and how and why each scene was shot. Nothing particularly riveting, pretty standard stuff.
Commentary by Nicholas Sparks
The author talks about the real-life origins of the story and the historical background of the American south during the period the story is set, as well as analyzing the nature of romantic love stories.
All In The Family: Nick Cassavetes (11:40)
Folks discuss how wonderful the director is.
Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story Well Told (6:36)
This little featurette covers writer’s rise to success on his first published novel, which was ‘The Notebook’.
Southern Exposure: Locating ‘The Notebook (11:33)
This feature looks at the locations chosen for shooting the film in North Charleston and South Carolina and how they tried to recreate the period of the 1940s.
This is broken into two sections – a tediously narrated Casting Rachel and Ryan (4:07) and Rachel McAdams’ Screen Test (3:37), where you can see exactly why she got the part.
Trailer (2:08)
The trailer looks great but gives absolutely everything away. Avoid this if you haven’t seen the film already.

In addition to the bonus materials on the disc, there are several more extras in the package. The container itself opens from the top like an old-fashioned box of stationary. Then, inside you’ll find a forty-six page photo album and scrapbook with pictures from the movie and space for one’s own photos and remarks. The disc fits into a plastic Digipak fastener on the inside back cover. After that is an envelope full of scrapbook accessories: stickers, photo corners, and bookmarks. Finally, there’s a “Notebook” stationery set with sixteen themed note cards and envelopes.