By Jeff Labrecque
Updated February 08, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

This is a good story,” says Allie (Gena Rowlands), an Alzheimer’s patient captivated by the romance that Duke (James Garner) reads to her each day. ”I think I’ve heard it before.” The same feels true of The Notebook: Think Titanic, only with Joan Allen as the iceberg (playing Allie’s severe mom in flash backs). Nick Cassavetes’ film about true love impeded by class prejudice doesn’t blaze new trails, but it is patiently told, impressively performed, and beautifully shot. Rachel McAdams plays the young Allie in 1940s North Carolina, and Ryan Gosling totally inhabits the role of Noah, the free-spirited lumberman who falls for her. The story is Allie’s, but the men in her life express love best — ”maybe not how love actually is,” Cassavetes explains, ”but how love should be.”

EXTRAS In his commentary, Cassavetes raves about directing his mother, Rowlands, and defends the film’s schmaltziness, calling its detractors ”lizards.” For novelist Nicholas Sparks (who has his own track and featurette), on the other hand, sentimentality is good business: He was making $30,000 as a pharmaceutical rep when publishers offered him $1 million for his book.