Based on the bestseller by Nicolas Sparks the film begins with Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) an inseparable couple living in a nursing home. While Duke remembers their life together Allie who suffers from progressive dementia does not. Their only bond is a faded notebook from which Duke reads to Allie every day telling her the same story over and over. It's a sweeping tale of two South Carolina teens country boy Noah (Ryan Gosling) and city gal Allie (Rachel McAdams) who spend one glorious summer in the early 1940s falling madly in love. Unfortunately the couple is soon separated first by her disapproving parents and then by World War II but after seven years apart after taking different paths they are passionately reunited. There's a catch though; Allie is now faced to choose between the man she once loved and the successful businessman (James Marsden) she is engaged to. It's really no surprise who the young Allie chooses in the end--but for Duke the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that every day somehow through the power of this story the mentally impaired Allie miraculously remembers their love if only for a very brief moment before slipping back into oblivion. Tears being jerked from your eyes yet?
The talented cast certainly elevates The Notebook's romantic drudgery. McAdams takes a departure from all the Mean Girls she's played lately (including The Hot Chick) and easily wins you over as the spirited young Allie while the usually intense Gosling also tackles something lighter so to speak than his previous darker roles such as his Jewish-turned-American Nazi leader in The Believer. While infusing a certain sense of brooding and melancholy into Noah especially in the years he spends pining for Allie Gosling manages to exude Noah's genuine warmth and sensitivity as well. And between the two of them real sparks fly as the actors paint a fresh and inviting picture of young love that stands the test of time. Marsden is completely wasted however as Allie's fiancé Lon a upstanding Southern gentleman Allie's parents expect her to marry who offers little as to why Allie should stay with him. As the older contingency veterans Garner and Rowlands who take the sappiest material and turn it into something meaningful inspire some truly heart-ripping moments as the aging couple holding onto their love as tight as they can. In the supporting cast Joan Allen has some shining moments as Allie's uptight mother with a secret of her own.
In bringing the popular novel about enduring love to life director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) may have used his own experiences having seen his parents--the late John Cassavetes and his lady love and muse Gena Rowlands--play out their own real-life love affair. Cassavettes gets to the heart of the material right away and permeates the screen with the beautiful surroundings of South Carolina where The Notebook was filmed. We glide through lush moss-filled swamps and sleepy Southern towns marvel at languid shots of the South Carolina coastline. It's very clear Cassavetes has a way with actors much like his father did gently coaxing realistic performances from his young somewhat untested leads while allowing old guards like Garner and Rowlands to simply work their magic (imagine telling your Oscar-nominated mother how to act. Right). The problem is the story itself which not only offers nothing new to the romance genre but also isn't very compelling. There are no great tragedies (save perhaps for the whole dementia thing) no real villainous presence to keep the lovers apart no peril at all. It's boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-wins-girl-back--ho-hum. Where's the sudsy soap opera when you need it?
Sweet Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) is an ordinary southern girl living in Frazier's Bottom West Virginia working at the Piggly Wiggly with her best friends Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Pete (Topher Grace) and dreaming about meeting her all-time favorite movie star Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). Not a chance in hell that'll happen right? Wrong! She gets her wish when she enters a contest and wins the grand prize: an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood to go on a date with Tad much to Pete's chagrin (he is of course hopelessly and secretly in love with Rosalee). Tad's agent Richard "The Driven" Levy (Nathan Lane) and his manager also named Richard "The Shameless" Levy (Sean Hayes) have masterminded the "Win a Date" contest hoping to transform Tad a bad boy who's let fame go to his head back into the popular boy next door. But the Richards are ill prepared for the effect the contest has on their high-profile client. Once Tad spends an evening with Rosalee he realizes what he's missing in his life and moves to West Virginia to be near her so she can "rub some of that goodness" off on him. Rosalee's dream may come true but it's a huge headache for the Richards and a nightmare for Pete who'd better tell Rosalee how he feels soon or lose her forever. Think he'll win out in the end?
The performances in Tad Hamilton could easily have been formulaic but fortunately the engaging cast has enough verve and spontaneity to make you care about their characters. Bosworth (Blue Crush) has the hardest job--to keep Rosalee's sugary-sweetness from becoming too nauseating and to prove she isn't just another pretty-but- dumb hick chick. The fetching Duhamel (TV's Las Vegas) plays the two sides to Tad perfectly--the charismatic cad who gets everything he wants and the vulnerable guy who's never really learned how to cope with being in love. Then there's Grace as the adorable Pete--the real boy-next-door with his puppy-dog face and great quips. It's a persona the actor has mastered on his hit TV series That '70s Show and it's easy to see how Pete's endearing if slightly neurotic personality could win you over. As for the supporting cast Goodwin (TV's Ed) as Cathy is a breath of fresh air while veteran character actor Gary Cole's turn as Rosalee's father who tries to talk showbiz lingo with Tad is hilarious. As the Richards Lane and Hayes are as outrageously over-the-top funny as you expect them to be.
In the '80s writer/director John Hughes was the king of the romantic teen comedies that featured a quirky love triangle between the girl the geek and the hunk. Sure the plot lines were generally unsurprising--and sometimes downright melodramatic--but the dialogue was zingy and the young talent sparkled. Director Robert Luketic's Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! takes audiences back to those glory days. Like Hughes Luketic (Legally Blonde) understands the tempo a film like this requires with quick cuts and stand-alone comic vignettes. And although Hamilton's script by television writer Victor Levin isn't quite Hughes' caliber there are more than a few great lines in Hamilton ("He wants your "goodness" to rub off on him? He wants your ass to rub off on him!") as well as tender moments especially when the dejected Pete asks Tad if he ever noticed Rosalee has six different smiles. A little romantic tale like Hamilton won't win any prizes but it is an endearing smile-inducing film.