Overrated: The Notebook
Since its 2004 release, Nick Cassavetes’ The Notebook has become the quintessential romantic film. Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, the film encompasses all the Sparks clichés that we’ve come to expect and love (or love to hate). There is the ill-fated love marked by separation, letters, illness, the triumph of the underdog and frolicking in the water. First of all, I do enjoy this film. The actors are compellingly charming, the settings are idyllic, and we’re all a bit partial to Ryan Gosling. The film is successful in its tear-jerking romantic ideals of everlasting love. However, for its interpretation of love, it is terribly overrated.
The film opens with Duke reading to Allie, his wife, who is slowly losing her battle with dementia. From his notebook, he recounts the story of a couple falling madly in love, their separation and then their eventual reunion. As heart wrenching as this is to see, there are many aspects of The Notebook which I have an issue with, for instance, how the couple came to be in the first place.
The film romanticises the idea that boys can “get the girl” through persistence and perseverance. When Noah (Ryan Gosling) first meets Allie (Rachel McAdams) he is so desperate for her to notice him that he hangs onto the rungs of a Ferris wheel in order to get her attention. Despite warnings and being told he is endangering the lives of himself and others he threatens to let go if she does not accept his request of a date. Allie definitively refuses. “Alright, you leave me no other choice then,” he says and then lets one hand go from the rung, slowly beginning to slip. Once he has used enough emotional blackmail to get Allie to agree to go out with him, he resumes composure and is happy-go-lucky, Noah Calhoun again.
Noah goes to these extremes throughout the film. Threatening suicide for a date with a girl is not romantic in any way. The Notebook seems to endorse, romanticise and encourage the idea that if a guy wants a girl he should have her. “I see something I like, I gotta have it,” is another line delivered by Noah.
I believe Noah to be fanatical, while Allie is a passive character. It’s frustrating to see this woman portrayed as not knowing what she wants or what’s good for her, a backwards trope used in many a romantic film. It seems that Noah knows exactly what Allie needs and desires. Forcing himself into her life until he becomes all she can think about. Noah tells Allie that her problem is that she “doesn’t do what she wants,” and then he mocks her until she lies with him in the middle of the road. Despite her reluctance and repetition of the fact it’s silly and dangerous, she gives in. What exactly is this showing in terms of romance? Allie never seems to make a decision on any part of their relationship. It is her parents who incite a breakup, Noah who walks away from the relationship for being “too poor” and Allie’s mother who keeps them apart by hiding the 365 letters Noah writes to her.
Despite the all the fighting and the passionate embraces which follow, what else do we know of their relationship? Clichéd scenes of kissing in the rain aside, the majority of their time on screen is filled with arguments. During his romantic speech about wanting Allie forever, Noah tells her that “life will be hard, every day will take work,” to overcome the explosive arguments because that’s “what they do”. Are we supposed to believe that “we fight” is a romantic identifier of any loving couple? That doesn’t sound overly appealing to me. The level of abuse they throw at each other is ridiculous. The fact the film concludes each threat or abusive fight with an embrace of some sort gives incredibly unrealistic expectations of acceptable relationship behaviour.
The Notebookis gravely overrated in its portrayal of realistic romance and love. If you can see past the fantasy you are greeted by plot holes and questions that make you second guess just how in love this couple truly are.