The Notebook (2004)
PG-13 despite some pretty intense sexuality, often with a side of infidelity. Like, it's Hallmark-Movie-13. It's more risque than a Hallmark movie. But just imagine if the Hallmark Channel included sex in all of those romances. It would be something like that. Yeah, it's meant to be sexy, but it is also meant to be kind of adorable versions of what is really happening. There is nudity, but nothing that would be outside of bathing suit nudity. Still...it has a decent amount of sex in it. Also, the movie is super casual about a couple in love hitting each other. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Nick Cassavetes
This entire opening paragraph is going to reek of "He doth protest too much." I've never seen The Notebook. I'll give you a moment for your collective gasps. [allots pause for collected gasps] I know. I was notoriously single in 2004. I asked my wife once if she wanted to watch this because I had never seen it. Please, give her all of the credit in the world for being a wife who likes romance movies, but doesn't get much pleasure out of rewatching romance movies. I think The Notebook fell into the "It's fine" category, so that's not usually a tree I spend too much time barking up. But this movie is in a ton of my movie books. I have a scratch-off poster in my basement (that, unfortunately, I scratched most off when I initially got it) that has The Notebook. According to the algorithm, it was finally time to watch The Notebook.
When I saw that this movie starred James Garner and Gena Rowlands, I squinted really hard at the opening credits. I mean, the movie starts off with this absolutely gorgeous opening of a silhouette rowing against a setting (or rising?) sun. It starts off classy as heck and stars Gena Rowlands? Maybe I had misjudged this movie. I started to think of how the casting process for this movie came about. I mean, it has a pretty rock star cast. But this movie isn't known for exactly being the most memorable of performances. I mean, it made Ryan Gosling a household name. I think it may have jumpstarted the career of Rachel McAdams. But one thing it doesn't really have is the performances, despite having an amazing cast. And that's when I realized that the movie was directed by Nick Cassavetes. Somehow, part of me thought that John Cassavetes would somehow be in the film, despite how morbid of a notion that would be. But it kind of gets points for having this specific cast in it. I mean, I got to see another Gena Rowlands movie! How great is that? Sure, it wasn't my favorite. But part of me also really wanted to hate it.
And that's the problem with movies like The Notebook. I don't deny that it is very cool to hate on movies like this. While The Notebook is far from my cup of tea, I also refuse to begrudge anyone from liking this film. I'm probably going to spend a lot of time being really negative about it. But in reality, it's a perfectly fine film for what it is. It's meant to be sappy as all get out. Many romance movies, especially ones that want to make any amount of money at the box office, can't exactly afford to be subtle about the emotional manipulation happening in the film. It all makes a lot of sense. And for a romance movie, it hits a lot of great things. I already talked about the stellar cast. While a little heightened with its view on reality in order to play up the nostalgia card, the cinematography and mise en scene are pretty solid. The score is decent. The only thing that really bugs me is that it feels honestly and truly lazy in terms of storytelling.
I like bummer stories. I really do. Great storytelling thrives on conflict. Things can't always go well for the protagonists. It's funny. Most people who like romance stories tend to not like depressing things. But I often find romance stories horribly depressing. It's what makes them interesting. Getting two people together who are meant to be together doesn't actually happen in most movies. Instead, some sadist needs to put this couple through their paces. They need to have heaven and earth separate them so that when they finally get together, they can have a bittersweet epilogue, despite the fact that their prime years were injected with an abhorrent amount of tragedy. The Notebook takes these two characters, both a little flat and archetypal for my tastes, and then shows them the potential of their unity. But then, the movie has to physically force them apart because of a third party.
And that's what this great romance really is: punch after punch to the gut. Noah and Allie are happy together? Let's make economics and education a factor. Noah grows as a human being and tries to defy the fates? Mom will make sure that Allie gets none of the letters. Against all odds, Noah sees Allie again and tries to make a grand gesture to get her back. She's over the moon with some other guy. (You couldn't make him evil, Nick Cassavetes and Nicholas Sparks? It would have been really simple and far less complex if he was just a monster instead of nice sidepiece James Marsden.) Then, of course, she has to have crippling dementia. The movie goes out of its way to not name James Garner and Gena Rowlands characters. I mean, it seems pretty obvious that they're Noah and Allie. But the person who was in charge of the subtitles at one point just gave up the pretense that they weren't Noah and Allie and started labelling them as "Noah:" and "Allie:". I don't blame you. It was pretty transparent.
I can't help but be myself and I am completely aware that I am influenced by my setting is history. Noah and Allie are pretty gross, right? Allie doesn't welcome Noah's advances. Noah chases after Allie when he first sees her because he finds her physically attractive. I get it. He's handsome, so he's allowed to have that overwhelming confidence. But she straight up says "no" to him. She is with company. He doesn't know their dynamic. So the idea that he can ransom her into dating him is just gross. But Allie isn't exactly a great human being either. Allie...straight up cheats on her fiancé. I know that Noah cheats on the war widow (which is really gross the more I think about it), but at least he was always up front about his thoughts on the relationship. But Allie swears that she loves Lon. Even when he finds out, she still swears that she loves him. That's pretty messed up. And the lesson of the movie is that she has to do what she wants to do, not what will make other people happy. Is that really the best message of all time? I mean, yeah, she should do what she wants. But that doesn't mean that she doesn't have a responsibility to others.
And my least favorite romance trope showed up not once, but twice: the completely understanding significant other. I talked about how romance movies need just an insane amount of conflict and heartache to work. That's just part and parcel of romance storytelling. But romance movies also want to have the characters get together. To do this, these characters have to realize that they are side characters in someone else's story. There is no way that they think that they are the protagonists in their own tale. The war widow straight up wants to meet Allie. They have a lovely evening. Remember how her husband died, this depressed jerk used her for her body, and she was left alone again? Yeah, I'm sure that she would feel grateful for the time that they had together. Remember how Lon didn't do anything wrong? Remember how Allie kept stressing how much she loved him? How did that end? He let her go to be with this guy who stole her away. She didn't even get yelled at. Lon was a little mad at Noah and that's it.
Which leaves me with the framing narrative. It's very sweet that Old Man Noah took care of Dementia-Riddled Allie. It's remarkably sweet. But any story could have that as a framing narrative. There's nothing about the flashback storyline that ties into this titular notebook being written for the sake of preserving memory. It is really just a sweet gesture to know that Noah has always been a nice dude (except when he's break war widows' hearts). It just doesn't tie into the main plot in any significant way.
But this is some people's bread and butter. It hits so many buttons that I come across as a monster for not really digging it. I love me some romance, but I also really hate emotional manipulation. And that's what this movie really is. Emotional manipulation. But at least it was pretty to look at.
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Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.