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DVD Pick: "The Notebook"

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I would describe the movie "The Notebook" (2004) as an unabashedly romantic tale about love, memories, and death. It's a weepy, but I believe it's one that men can connect with. It's based on a novel by a man, the screenplay was written by a man, and the director is a man. The story chronicles one otherwise-quite-ordinary man's uncompromising love.

I had read Nicholas Sparks' bestselling novel "The Notebook" before seeing the film, and I would say the movie tells essentially the same story as the book and remains faithful to it in spirit. The big difference, though, is that the summer romance between the young lovers is greatly expanded in the film. Also, that romance takes place in the summer of 1932 in the novel, but it's moved forward to 1940 in the movie. Another change is that the book's primary setting of New Bern, North Carolina, is relocated one state south in the film to the fictional town of Seabrook, South Carolina.

The young lovers Noah and Allie are played in the film by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, and I was impressed by the screen chemistry between these two actors. I found them convincing as youngsters crazy in love, and their second love scene in the movie probably communicates about as much carnality as a PG-13 rating permits.

Although much of the film was shot in the Charleston area, I wouldn't say the movie has a particularly strong sense of place. Also, the 1940s scenes don't really feel period to me. Still, I think setting the tale in a time and place where social class was of paramount importance makes good story sense because that's what separates the young lovers. Allie is a member of the wealthy aristocracy, while Noah works in a lumber yard. An argument can be made that if Allie marries down, it may very well negatively impact the welfare of her extended family for generations.

The film's tale of young love is contrasted with scenes of two oldsters in an elegant nursing home, presumably in the 1990s. Duke, who has had two heart attacks, reads from a notebook to a woman who has been robbed of her memories by Alzheimer's. These roles are played by two of my favorite actors, James Garner and Gena Rowlands, who bring dignity to aged characters nearing death.

I found the movie visually very pleasing, with its lush South Carolina landscapes and rich, saturated colors. Also, the 1940s cars and clothes are attractive and interesting. Complementing the film's visual style, the soundtrack music is appropriately romantic.

I realize that "The Notebook" is not a movie everyone will like. Its over-the-top romanticism exalts the senses and emotion over reason and intellect. It will offend the sensibilities of the practical and the literal-minded. But if you think there might be a romantic buried somewhere inside you, I recommend giving it a try.

The director of "The Notebook" was Nick Cassavetes, son of actress Gena Rowlands and the late pioneering filmmaker John Cassavetes. The DVD contains a feature-length director's commentary, and I thought Nick Cassavetes was both entertaining and informative throughout. He relates an amusing anecdote about Ryan Gosling approaching James Garner as to what accent they should use in the movie, only to have Garner crustily respond that he wasn't going to speak any differently from the way he normally does. Also, Cassavetes says the MPAA initially wanted to assign an R rating to the movie, and he made some changes to get it down to PG-13.

There's also a second audio commentary track on the DVD, this one by Nicholas Sparks, who starts off with the folksy greeting, "Hey, y'all!" He goes on to talk mostly about how the movie differs from his novel, and I didn't find his commentary nearly as worthwhile as the one by Cassavetes.

The DVD contains 12 deleted/alternate scenes that run a total of more than 28 minutes, and you can watch them either with or without the commentary of editor Alan Heim. I thought Heim's explanations as to why each scene was deleted or altered were fascinating. By the way, included here are versions of the film's love scenes, and I would say they are very slightly steamier than the ones that made it in. Heim says they submitted the second love scene to the MPAA four times on the way to getting a PG-13 rating.

The DVD also provides four featurettes: the first of these is 12 minutes long and gives some information on director Nick Cassavetes; the second is seven minutes on novelist Nicholas Sparks; the third is 11 minutes on the South Carolina locations used in the film; and the fourth is four minutes about casting the two young leads. In addition to the featurettes, there's a few minutes of Rachel McAdams being screen-tested for the role of Allie, and I can definitely see why the filmmakers were impressed.

On the next page, I've listed all the special features of "The Notebook" DVD.

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