The Notebook (2004)

So, my lady and I have recently been getting into the habit of having Movie Nights which, needless to say, is pretty damn cool for a Film Nerd such as myself. And after subjecting the poor thing to a hefty dose of loud, blood-splattered ‘guy’ flicks, the spirit of fairness took over and I casually mentioned that the next one would be her choice. Her answer almost played out in slow-motion and probably should’ve been accompanied by ominous church bells clanging in the distance. “I think we should watch Thhheee Nooootebooooook.” Alarms sounded suddenly in my head and I found myself wanting to leap head-first through the nearest window and run screaming for the horizon. Either that, or douse myself with something highly flammable and then cackle “NEVER!” as I strike the match. I mean really, this is a film title that is pretty much designed to strike fear and revulsion into the hearts and minds of heterosexual boyfriends the world over! But, she had cooked a wonderful dinner and the spirit of fairness whispered to me again. It said “Man Up, watch the damn movie, try to understand why women seem to love it and maybe…just maybe…she’ll one day tolerate an Alien marathon or something equally awesome (hey, I can dream…can’t I?). So we curled up on the couch and her finger mashed the ‘PLAY’ button. 124 minutes later…I was still alive…and seemed to still have both testicles. I did feel a little like I should’ve been handed a cheap T-shirt that read “ I lived through The Notebook…and all I got was this damn shirt!” but that passed. So, how was this product of Satan? Well, some elements were almost as cheesy and cringe-inducing as I had feared…but surprisingly, it DID have some redeeming qualities. First off, for those of you out there that don’t know, The Notebook is essentially two stories running parallel to one another. The first one focus’ on a pair of elderly residents, played nicely by James Garner and Gena Rowlands, at an old-folks retirement home/hospice. Not knowing who these people are, we watch as Garner takes the time and care to read to Rowlands’ confused character from a leather bound notebook (get it?) in his possession. The ‘story’ that he reads her brings us to the next line of narrative, the budding romance of a poor mill worker, played with a permanently dazed expression by Ryan Gosling, and a spoiled bimbo socialite, played by an over-acting Rachel McAdams, in the 1940s.

THE BAD: Pretty much everything about the Gosling/McAdams portion of the film grated on my nerves in one form or another. From the moment that Gosling decides that she’s The One and tries to impress her by demonstrating that he’s a rude, self-destructive hick (by dangling himself before her at the top of a friggin ferris wheel and blackmailing her into a date!!), the writing was on the wall. Neither of the characters came off as likeable (to me) and that’s a death rattle for a film where you’re supposed to want them to come together in a state of romantic bliss. In my opinion, neither character deserved the romance that we’re supposed to buy into. By the end of THAT story, both characters have shown their true colors…and they weren’t pretty. HE was a brooding, whiny idiot who turns away a woman FAR better suited for him for some fanciful illusion based on a summer romance from 7 years prior. Yes, 7 YEARS PRIOR!!! In real life, he’d have certainly moved on and happily shacked up with the pretty war widow who just wants to be with him. But I get it…it’s a romance and isn’t meant to be seen as a facsimile for ‘real life’ (thank gawd!). And SHE turns out to be a cheating, indecisive spoiled little bitch with some questionable tendencies toward physical abuse (she slaps him a lot), who pretty much crushes a perfectly suited man (poor bastard) who loves her, for the same, childish illusion. As a film that tries to lay down a core based on connective emotions, there are a number of totally missed opportunities to examine human feelings and how they drive us. Like the abrupt, off-screen passing away of Goslings father, played with roguish charm by the ever capable Sam Shepard. Or the bloodless death of his best friend on the snowy plains of war-torn Europe. Instead of showing these two events as catalysts for him to search out the only other person that he feels he’s ever truly connected with, all we’re treated to are shots of an expressionless Gosling staring at…something. Hell, I found myself half expecting his eyes to slowly cross, given the dopey expression he wears through THE WHOLE MOVIE!!! But no, these two events are pretty much just brushed aside and never examined in relation to his stalker-like pursuit of this idiot woman. And where the unrealistic romance is delved into, it’s slathered in a near-choking dose of cheese and bad dialogue. Fellas, you WILL roll your eyes. I’m sorry to say, ladies but it’s true.

The Good: Now, believe it or not, The Notebook DOES have some very good things working for it and ALL of them are found in the story of the Gardner/Rowlands characters. Considering the ocean of unbelievable cheese that the Gosling/McAdams story floats on, it’s almost jarring when compared to the story of them in their difficult twilight years (whoops…spoiler…like you wouldn’t have seen it coming). The performances from the two veteran thespians are powerful and…yes, I’ll admit it…heart-breaking. By the end, you feel Gardners pain as he tries to reconnect with what’s left of the love of his life as dementia begins to take over her mind and soul. The poor man has to watch in horror as she, mid embrace, lapse into a ‘spell’ and panics at the sight of him. This is where The Notebook got me, because this is something that people do, in fact, have to cope with and it’s hard (personal experience talking here). Now, my face didn’t exploded into a cloud of tears and snot from the performances and story here, but I will confess to a twinge in my jaw, that annoying little feeling that announces that tears COULD be in the mail. There WAS an emotional reaction, despite my apparently stony exterior. So, in that regard, The Notebook accomplished what it set out to do. But it’s still burdened by some shitty acting, heavy cheese and silly story telling. Guys, if you HAVE to endure this…it won’t kill you. Hell, the rewards of putting up with it and recognizing that lots of women DO like this sort of flick, may be worth it. I know they were for me ! ; )

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