This film, based on the novel by Catholic novelist Nicholas Sparks, is a love story narrated by an old man called Duke (James Garner) to an old lady (Gena Rowlands) in a nursing home somewhere in North Carolina (or is that South Carolina? – it’s down South, anyway).
He reads to her from a notebook a love story about two young people, Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdam), who fall in love back in 1940, and all the trials they go through (he’s from the poor side of town, not a penny to his name – she’s the daughter of an upper-class Southern family). Obviously, there are a few questions up front, such as: who are these two old folks? Is the story made up or real? Will Noah and Allie end up together?
If you can’t work out the answer to those questions from everything I’ve told you, then you’ve clearly never watched a romantic film in your life.
So how does it hold up? It’s certainly not a boring two hours, but ultimately, I’m not sure exactly what’s there. I’ll try to explain. There are basically two love stories going on here:
1. The “young love” Noah and Allie story. This is all over-the-top mushiness and making out. And, by making out, I must stress that I didn’t think this level of sexual activity was allowed to be screened under a PG rating – obviously, the rules are changing quite a bit. But, hey, it’s not all groping. There’s some poetry reading, letter writing and a long separation (guess what event separated them? – hint, this love story is set in the 1940s) .
2. The story of devotion between Duke and the elderly lady with dementia who he is reading to.
Now, of these two stories, obviously, it’s the young and very eye-catching Noah and Allie who get all the screen time, but I find their story a bit tiresome. For starters, it’s just a typical modern young romance cliche in period setting. And, as always, there’s the assumption that jumping into bed as soon as possible, with no thought of marriage, was as right back then as it is today. I actually believe (and Steven Greydanus, an excellent Catholic reviewer agrees in his insightful review of this film at his website) that it would have been a lot more shameful to get up to that kind of stuff back then than it was now. So, yeah, I get kind of tired of Hollywood trying to re-write history in terms of current accepted morals.
Which leaves the story of the older folks. Now, this actually is quite moving, and I defy those of you with an emotional bone in your body not to watch the end of this film without getting choked up. And because this older story ends the film (in the same way that it begins it), you’re left with a pretty good impression overall.
But, now, in hindsight, I’m not sure if there’s enough there to be able to revisit it. So, for the great acting and gorgeous look of the film, and the ending, I’ll give it what I can, but I don’t think I want to go much higher than:
2 1/2 out of 5.