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Nicholas Sparks fans can breathe easy: Director Nick Cassavetes is in touch with his inner romantic and his adaptation of Sparks best-selling tearjerker retains the mushy sentimentality that readers loved. Present day: An older gentleman named Duke (James Garner) regularly visits senile Allie (Gena Rowlands) in her hospital room and regales her with a romantic…read more

Nicholas Sparks fans can breathe easy: Director Nick Cassavetes is in touch with his inner romantic and his adaptation of Sparks best-selling tearjerker retains the mushy sentimentality that readers loved. Present day: An older gentleman named Duke (James Garner) regularly visits senile Allie (Gena Rowlands) in her hospital room and regales her with a romantic tale of young love that he reads from a well-worn notebook. In the 1940s, spirited, college-bound Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) and her wealthy, class-conscious family are summering in small-town Seabrook, N.C. Handsome Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), who works at the local lumberyard, is smitten when Allie catches his eye at a fair and decides hell do anything to get her to go out with him. She stubbornly refuses at first, but eventually relents and winds up falling madly in love with him. They spend the warm, lazy days imagining the future, ignoring Allies busy schedule of pre-college tutoring and sharing their hopes, including Noahs dreams of restoring a dilapidated mansion. But the idyll comes to an abrupt end when Allies normally doting father (David Thornton) and stern, ambitious mother (Joan Allen) learn that their little girl is dallying with a working-class boy and ship her off to Sarah Lawrence. Brokenhearted Noah writes daily, but Mrs. Hamilton intercepts the letters and after a year without word from his beloved, Noah enlists in the military. Noah and Allie reconnect years later, but everything has changed: Allie has fallen in love with handsome, socially acceptable war veteran Lon (James Marsden) and, with her parents enthusiastic approval, theyre engaged to be married. Back in the present, the elderly listener who has a feeling shes heard this story before wonders which worthy young man Allie picked and who Duke really is. Cassavetes film is unusually well-acted and lovely to look at, but his wholehearted embrace of saccharine melodrama and tendency to let scenes ramble on long after their point has been expressed makes for some slow going, especially since theres never really any question whom Allie will choose. That said, relative newcomer McAdams (previously best known for comedies like THE HOT CHICK and MEAN GIRLS) is outstanding in this period role and has genuine chemistry with brooding, puppy-dog-eyed Gosling. And while the framing story really doesnt add much to the main plot, Garner and the great Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes mother, show off their usual talents.

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