As I mentioned yesterday, there were two very clear standouts when I asked my friends for movie recommendations for Project Valentine, and the winner by far was the one that I've saved for last, The Notebook. Going into this movie, I knew literally only one thing about it, that it was referenced in the SNL Digital Short Lazy Sunday ("I love those cupcakes like McAdams loves Gosling!").
Shit, you guys - this movie was so good. I'm really glad that I saved it for last. I know I made fun of a lot of movies this month, even some good ones, but I'm not made of stone. This movie got me. When my friend Kelley suggested it, she said, "Well, The Notebook is the 800 pound gorilla of all love movies. And, you are a damn liar if you watch it and say you don't cry." She was right, and I won't lie to you - it did make me cry. No other movie this month has done that. This movie was different from the others I've watched this month for a couple of reasons, but more on that in a moment.
The Notebook switches timeframes between two stories. It opens with an elderly man (played by James Garner) going to spend the day reading to an elderly woman, a fellow resident of his nursing home (Gena Rowlands). She's in a state of advanced senile dementia. He begins to read to her from a love story, which takes us back in time to the other timeframe - the 1940s. Noah, a young man who works at a lumber mill, meets Allie, a rich girl who is only in town with her family for the summer. Despite her parents' disapproval, the two share an emotionally intense summer romance which comes to an abrupt end when her family leaves town early. Noah writes her each day for a year, but never receives a response because her mother intercepts the letters.
They each move on, Noah fighting in WW2, and Allie attending college and volunteering as a nurse for wounded soldiers. Allie meets a charming, wealthy soldier and gets engaged to him. Noah returns from the war, buys the dilapidated mansion he had once promised her he'd restore, and rebuilds it from the ground up. The restoration is so impressive that a story about it runs in the newspapers, and Allie sees it while she is trying on wedding dresses. She goes to pay him a visit, and the two tenuously reconnect, with her eventually asking why he never wrote. He tells her about the 365 letters, they kiss passionately, and make love. When her family and fiance don't hear from her, they come looking to make sure she's OK, and her mother finds her at Noah's home.
This is where the movie really started to surprise me. Up until now I had enjoyed it, but not been caught off guard by it. Allie's mother takes her to a worksite where they watch a worker from afar, and the mother tells of her own summer romance with that man years earlier. She convinces Allie that what she wants is for her to make the choice that will bring her happiness, and gives her the stack of letters. Allie faces a difficult choice, but goes back to Noah.
Over the course of the movie, it becomes clear that the elderly couple is Noah and Allie. She briefly becomes lucid long enough to reconnect with him. I've already spoiled so much of this movie, I won't tell you the very brief rest of the movie, and the ending of it. I'll tell you, though, that it wrecked me. It was really beautifully done.
Phew... long plot summary this time!
Full disclosure: I am extra-inclined to like movies with James Garner in them, as he is a distant relation of mine. Here is how my mom has passed the story along to me. Garner's last name at birth was Bumgarner. My mom's maiden name was Bumgardner. Apparently, the difference in names is explained by one of those "sloppy-clerk-at-Eliis-Island" incidents. Anyway, he's like my umpteenth cousin or something. Wassup, Jim? See you at the reunion? (Additional disclosure: he has never shown up at any reunion.)
Like I mentioned, this movie was different from the rest of my Project Valentine entries. A handful had "happily ever afters," but this was the only one that not only had that, but followed it up with a "till death do us part." Several had main characters caught in a love triangle situation, but this was definitely the only one that treated it in a real and honest way. Lon, the man who Allie is engaged to, isn't a jerk or a villain. He's not a guy who's clearly wrong for her (a la His Girl Friday or Runaway Bride). He's an honorable, loving person, and the two of them truly do love each other. When she has to choose between the two men, even though you know how it's going to turn out, you feel her turmoil. It's not an easy moment for her. And lastly, I've pointed out a few times this month my annoyance with the "I hate you until the moment I decide that I love you" cliche in romance movies. This movie, had it been more careless, could have lapsed into that, because the two leads do have an occasionally fiery relationship. The Notebook manages to make their relationship seem very real, though, and lets you know that the characters recognize things won't always be easy, but will be worth fighting for.
Rachel McAdams is turning into an actress whose movies I'll see just because she's in them. I haven't seen all of her filmography, but she really brings something good to her roles, and I especially enjoyed her in this. Ooh, and also in Sherlock Holmes - Courtney and I are both looking forward to the sequel to that one.
RATING - I was surprised to learn that this was based on a book by the same author who wrote A Walk to Remember. I thought this story was far better. I give it five notebooks out of five.
LESSON - Like I said yesterday, every minute with the one you love is special, even if they add up to a lifetime full of minutes.
That's it! 28 days of romance movies in a row! I'll have some concluding thoughts tomorrow, and I'm hoping to share my next project in the next few weeks. This time it has nothing to do with movies...