Cinema Signal:

A Widow for One Year
by John Irving

. "The Notebook"

The vitality and attractiveness of the young couple in this love story swept me off my generally too-cynical feet. Admiration was mixed with envy as old-fashioned romance at arms-length evolves slowly into serious life committment. The actors chosen to portray it couldn't be more engaging, especially at first.

But the elder version of these two, whose reminiscence from their past is what evokes the lively sparks from their youth yanks a curtain off the proceedings revealing the contrived framework of a simple, oft-repeated plot. Take away Rachel McAdams' utterly refreshing spirit, whose mark is made indelibly here, and there's little left to justify a big screen release.

Yes, of course, director Nick Cassavetes is putting his mom to work, and there's no little talent in Gena Rowlands' performance as a memory impaired once-beautiful, still attractive, institutionalized woman. And James Garner pairs up believably as her amazingly faithful and devoted husband but, in the end, there are those whose hearts will be aflutter and those who will regret the time spent. If you like Harlequin novels, consider it a must see.

Or, perhaps a better guide are the works of Nicholas Sparks on whose novel this is based. If you cried over his "Message in a Bottle" [the book or the DVD] or another of his sad love stories, "A Walk to Remember," [the book] this one's for you.

Production values are fine with a particularly stunning visual in the boat scene. The waters are carpetted by white ducks and geese whose numbers are so great you can barely see the river's surface. It's calendar art of natural beauty that's pretty breathtaking, and it supports the emotional content of the film just as exquisitely as planned.

To be fair, the film achieves its purpose of emotional manipulation nicely and will likely pay off handsomely at the boxoffice. After all, there are plenty of filmgoers who are only too happy to exercise the tear ducts and soak a few hankies. As for Rachel McAdams, she justifies the price of admission for a wider demographic and we can only wait for the career path she's now most assuredly on.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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