Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Notebook.

The Notebook (Nick Cassavettes, 2004)

Some blog notes first.

1. Quoth me, from my last post, thirteen days ago: “I apologize for the slow bloggin' of late. Holidays and such. But I'll pick it up soon.” The lesson, as always: Never believe me.

2. I don’t know if any of you read this, but Amy Poehler totally just stole my idea. C’MON. But I’ll turn lemons into lemonade here: I hereby invite Amy Poehler to write a guest post about a film of her choosing for Taste My Sad. We’ll see if she’s (wo)man enough to accept.

3. Today’s post features a guest take from stanky leg enthusiast and friend of the blog Sarah Orton! Stay tuned.

Category: Sad movie about Alzheimer’s dementia. (I’m told it’s not clear that she has full-blown Alzheimer’s or whatever. You get the idea.) I discussed Alzheimer’s disease quite offensively in an earlier post about a much less popular movie. Last I checked, it’s still very sad. (Worthy of a 1- or 2-seed for sure.)

Let’s focus today on the fact that this is a sad movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. The Notebook was Sparks’s first novel, and became an instant bestseller upon its publication in 1996. Since then he’s become one of the most widely-known (and widely-ridiculed) tearmongers alive, with six of his sixteen books having been adapted into tearjerker films of varying critical and commercial success: Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, The Last Song and this one. (FOTB Aly Seeberger points out that the posters/covers for many of these films/books involve instances of face-touching. Which is vaguely creepy.) I hope to cover all of the rest of his films in this blog at some point. I don’t know if Nights in Rodanthe is all that sad, but I do know that Diane Lane is a fox. But pretty much all the others are certified Taste My Sad material, as evidenced by this twitpic of birthday girl/FOTB Lindsay Filardo and friend after viewing The Last Song. (Oof.)

My familiarity with this issue: As mentioned, I’m pretty unfamiliar with Sparks. I have only heard a number of things secondhand about his whole oeuvre. Some positive, some negative. Not to generalize here, but mainly girls like it and guys don’t. There are exceptions of course: some girls don’t like it, and some guys are gay.

I submit that The Notebook is the defining sad movie for people of my generation; that is, if you asked a random sampling of people in their twenties to name one sad movie, The Notebook would be named most often. At the very least, it’s a movie that pretty much everyone has seen, whether fifty times by choice, or that time their girlfriends forced them to. And as such, everyone has an opinion on it. Many people are very vociferous about these opinions; FOTB Ellen Barr was once called “heartless” for not crying at it. It's strange to me that this movie seems so polarizing. To a cynical observer, it might appear like this is your standard dichotomy between people who are susceptible to sappy oversentimentality and those who are "above it." But I have a feeling it’s more complicated than that. I suppose I’m about to find out.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “The movie focuses on an old man reading a story to an old woman in a nursing home. The story he reads follows two young lovers named Allie Hamilton and Noah Calhoun, who meet one evening at a carnival. But they are separated by Allie's parents who dissaprove (sic) of Noah's unwealthy family, and move Allie away. After waiting for Noah to write her for several years, Allie meets and gets engaged to a handsome young soldier named Lon. Allie, then, with her love for Noah still alive, stops by Noah's 200-year-old home that he restored for her, 'to see if he's okay.' It is evident that they still have feelings for each other, and Allie has to choose between her fiancé and her first love.”

What FOTB Sarah Orton thinks of the movie: I have never been able to pass up watching The Notebook while finding something to watch on TV. I get sucked into the sad. There has also never been a time that I’ve watched the movie without crying. Never! How ridiculous is that? So, why do I continue to watch it? If one searched for “the notebook” in my Gmail, he or she would probably end up quite nervous about my mental state. Lines such as, “The tears are starting to form, good God,” “Here are the tears!” and “SOBBBBBBING,” are a slight cause for alarm. The best line I came across was, “We talked last night? Sorry I blacked out because of the sadness.” Unhealthy. [Editor's Note: If I know our Sarah, she may have also blacked out from the drinkin'.]

The Notebook is the quintessential movie of highs and lows. The only reason that people are (at least I am) willing to black out from the sadness is the fact that 5 minutes earlier they were radiating with the happiness of love. I think that’s the reason why I can’t stop watching it either: take the good with the bad. I know at the end of the movie I will inevitably be sobbing while listening to “I’ll Be Seeing You”, but it doesn’t erase the preciousness of Noah and Allie’s sappy story. Also, while I may not be able to relate to the characters themselves, who doesn’t want to relate to that story? Why sure, I’d love to be a stunningly beautiful Southern belle who has to choose between a clean-cut wealthy soldier and my scruffy, yet sensitive, hunk of a summer love. Thanks for those options!  

What I thought of the movie: Well here’s the thing. It’s kind of like there are two different movies to talk about here: the flashback scenes with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the 1940s, and the present-day scenes with James Garner and Gena Rowlands. And I think I agree with GFOTB Julia Falkenstern that it might have been better if The Notebook just consisted of the flashback scenes. That part of the movie is a nice, simple, classic love story kind of thing, and I really enjoyed it. But the movie isn’t content to be a nice, simple, classic love story. It had to shoehorn in some real mawkish old-people scenes and an ending that was, to me, literally laughable.

(I’d say SPOILER ALERT, but (a) ugh and (b) I am the only person alive who hadn’t seen this movie until just now, so whatever.) So James Garner reads to Gena Rowlands, who we find out suffers from dementia, and if there’s any doubt that Garner and Rowlands are the old-people versions of Gosling and McAdams, the movie just up and tells us that at some point. No real suspense there. So the only real point of these scenes is to set us up for the fact that she doesn’t remember him, and then toy with our emotions when she has a moment of clarity that dissipates moments later. Yes, when we find out that she wrote the notebook for him to read to her so that she can “come back to her,” that’s very romantical, don’t get me wrong. But then he has a heart attack, and recovers, and finds her and out of nowhere she remembers him again and they literally lie down together and DIE AT THE SAME TIME. This all happens! C’mon now. They got greedy.

The other thing of note here is that they changed the ending of the book. I was not aware that the book had a different ending until I discussed it with FOTB Allie Hagan. Before she told me what happened, I thought, “Man, I hate when they do that. I bet the filmmakers just wanted to sap it up some more so they went for the double-death thing. The ending of the book had to have been better.” Here is the transcript of the ensuing conversation:

Allie: they don't die. they have old people sex in the nursing home.
me: OOF

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: At the end of the day, the problems I had with the present-day scenes didn’t really take away from the good stuff in the flashbacks. (I will admit that this is partially because Rachel McAdams is, like, stupid hot. YOWZA.) The Gosling/McAdams story was, for the most part, nice and classic and really relatable. I totally bought the two of them and their summer fling. It was like that song from Grease, only much less homoerotic. Like I said before, it’s quite simple. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have a summer fling, boy and girl almost do the do in a haunted house, girl leaves town, boy writes to girl once a day for a year (by the way, think about how boring those letters must have gotten even like a month into that), girl’s mom is a total b and hides all the (probably boring) letters, girl meets boy #2 while boy #1 is off at war, boy #1 gets all sad and builds a house and grows long hair and a beard, and they get back together eventually. It’s good stuff. I related especially the “growing long hair and a beard” thing. Exhibit AExhibit B. I rest my case.

Say what you will about me, but let no one deny that I enjoy a good romance film. Usually of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan AOL-related comedy variety, but occasionally the more serious ones too. Love stories are tricky things in real life, and they only really work in movies when they acknowledge and reflect this complexity to a certain extent, while also making things seem simpler and more magical than they actually are in real life. I think the love story in this movie works so well because we believe, from the beginning, that these two are MFEO. Even when Gosling is kind of stalkery. It works because McAdams has this coy smile that says to us, "Yeah I know he's kind of stalkery, but just go with it. It'll be alright."  We believe her, and we are rewarded for this belief when it gets all dreamy later on. But then they bring in the complexity when she faces an actual difficult choice (even though we know who she chooses), because James Marsden is actually a really nice/really rich person. And we cheer when she chooses her soul mate/the poor guy. It's a rare movie that appeals to both my hopeless romantic and class warrior sides.

(Oh and also there’s a dramatic scene where they kiss in the rain. Taylor Swift must have LOVED it.)

How I felt after the movie ended: This whole time I’ve been vaguely confused with the super-ridiculous popularity of this movie (it made $115 million at the box office) in the context of its super-sadness. But seeing it and focusing on the nice romantic parts as I did, I kind of get it. The movie is memorable to the people who watch it for one thing, while being (to me at least) notable/notorious for another thing. And this divide really defined the movie for me, as you’ve no doubt noticed at this point. So while I’m pretty glad that no girls ever forced me to watch it and called me "heartless" when I didn't cry, I’m glad I’ve finally been Notebooked.


  1. Is "Notebooked" something your husband did to you after the movie ended?

  2. Don't get FOTB Katie Ross started on "A Walk to Remember."