John and Savannah are lovers kept apart by the contrivances of writer Nicholas Sparks' cruel, cruel world. Oh, they try so hard to be together, but the obstacles of logic and common sense keep getting in the way. Like a capricious God, The Notebook author doth smite them for such hubris in the face of their higher purpose - to act as ciphers for middle-aged women's need for a good cry.In one scene Savannah cries in the arms of her beloved, "I had no choice!" she sobs, quite rightly, as Sparks sacrifices her mercilessly in the pursuit of effective tear-scrounging narrative. In Sparks' world, John must endlessly extend his U.S. army duties, and Savannah, rather than stoically wait this out, must marry the neighbor with terminal cancer and an autistic son. So unable to bear the hurt of her love's continued absence, she sees tending to a dying man preferable. That's how much Sparks wants us to know that she loves John. In fact, her self-flagellation is the only way we really know Savannah does love John, because the 10-minute montage of soft-focus mooning, tickling and kissing that details the two-week affair before their separation just doesn't sell it very well.
If Sparks is to be believed, the interruption of this blossoming romance by the events of war is far greater a tragedy than the mounting deaths in the Middle East. John and Savannah are but mere pawns in the game of box office bingo, fated to do the yearning, drawn-out dance of The Notebook - a ritual foretold in the ancient prophecies of marketing to bring in the big money.
But the problem is, well one of the problems is, that all this yearning is not romantic, it's frustrating. Their inability to just get it together makes you want to beat the screen with your fists. For all the melodrama, we could be forgiven for believing their love might be the key to end world poverty or reverse global warming. When you start willing the nice neighbor man to die more quickly from his cancer, you know that what you're watching isn't exactly entertainment. They suffer and so we must suffer too, and gladly.
Channing Tatum can, in the right situation, come across as a modern-day James Dean, but here his emotional constipation only makes the drama more interminable. He acts with his jaw - clenching and unclenching at the appropriate points. The story demands he has little actual screen time with Amanda Seyfried, apparently in an effort to allow this lack of conversational ability to come across as mysterious, rather than mundane. Seyfried eagerly jumps through hoops like a performing poodle in order to gain his affection. Strangely, there are two autistic characters acting as sub plots, presumably to make the couple's emoting more believable in contrast.
Yes, the star-crossed lovers thing is a story as old as time, and honestly - Romeo and Juliet made some questionable decisions, but John and Savannah have them beat in self pity. Sparks' characters are weak, passive martyrs to his cause. The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre coined the concept of "bad faith" - that is the denial of one's freedom of decision, one's free will - an idea that defines the conundrums of Sparks' world. The writer creates a belief system that his characters must submit to, and as such his audience. If it isn't painful and drawn out and angst-ridden - it isn't real love.
All that said, it's bound to be a huge hit.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Jamie Linden and
Nicholas Sparks. Starring Amanda Seyfried, Channing Tatum. Rated PG-13