I will admit that when I first watched The Notebook, it was under less than ideal circumstances. I was 13, and I watched the DVD (rented from Blockbuster—yes, Blockbuster still existed) with my parents while on vacation. My view of what many argue is the best part of the movie—that one scene in the rain—was obscured by a book my mother was desperately waving in front of the TV in an effort to preserve my innocence. And I’m pretty sure I missed a good 15 minutes of the plot setup making popcorn. But I remember thinking the film was sappy and stupid.
Most people don’t agree with me. The 2004 film, which is based on a 1996 Nicholas Sparks novel, is now a cultural phenomenon. In particular, the famous kissing scene is now so iconic that it’s constantly clipped and parodied. It’s also developed into an audience favorite: it may have a score of 52 from critics on Rotten Tomato, but audiences have given the 2004 romantic drama an 85.
So given how much people love this movie, I decided to give it another shot. At 13 I hadn’t yet fallen in love or had my heart broken, and I probably didn’t have a firm grasp on what Alzheimer’s really was. So as a world-weary 23-year-old who is far more susceptible to tearjerkers, I re-watched The Notebook for its 10th anniversary. And it was even more terrible than I remember. Here’s why.
1. This is not a healthy relationship
When it comes down to it, we actually know very little about Noah and Allie as a couple. Here’s what we do know: they like to put themselves in dangerous situations; people are always walking in on them having sex in that one house; and they fight all the time.
The first bad sign was when Noah climbed up on that Ferris Wheel and threatened to kill himself by letting go if she didn’t go out with him. Sure, it seems cute in the movie, but imagine if a guy did that in real life. You would think he was seriously unstable. Another bad sign: on their first date, he almost got her run over by a car by lying in the street. Excellent.
Then we see them laughing a lot together and shoving ice cream cones in each other’s faces—you know, cliché scenes that movies use to indicate people are in love. But we also see them screaming at each other. This usually ends with her slapping him in the face or punching his chest. After she’s bruised him a bit, they start making out. (Could people make out that much in public in the 1940s?) I get it. They’re passionate: They fight and then they have great sex. That’s their thing. But that doesn’t translate to long-term stability and reading to each other in the nursing home. Just saying.
2. You know she ends up with Noah
I’m not even going to use a spoiler alert on this one because anyone who can put two and two together will realize James Marsden’s character would not be telling a love story in which Ryan Gosling’s character is portrayed in such a positive light. Knowing the end of the movie doesn’t necessarily ruin it, but I’ve gotten into arguments with friends about the merits of this film in which they posit that there is a moment when you think just maybe Rachel McAdams is going to end up with the wrong guy. She’s not. She’s going back to Noah because Noah is telling her the story at the end. Sorry, Lon. You never had a shot.
3. E from Entourage deserved to go with a little more dignity
But it was a war. Someone had to die.
4. The movie has at least five endings
- Rachel returns with her suitcases to the house Noah built for her. They hug. Cut to black. You don’t get to see them when they’re old again, but let’s be real: they put Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling on the poster, not the old couple. You came to see the young, hot people kiss.
- Rachel remembers Noah. They live happily ever after at least for that moment.
- Rachel forgets Noah. A twist! The movie ends in a sad note. But this is Hollywood, so that’s not happening.
- Noah has a heart attack. We assume he dies of a broken heart. But again, too depressing.
- The actual ending: they die in the night together. Whether you think it’s cheesy or not, you’re pretty happy they’re dead at this point because it means the movie finally has to end.
5. The Princess Bride did the grandpa reading a love story schtick better
And It’s a Wonderful Life did the whole dream of one day fixing up an old house and then doing it schtick better.
6. Enough with the birds!
The director hits you over the head with a bird metaphor. There are weird CGI birds flying at old Allison at the beginning of the movie as she looks over the lake. Rewind to when they’re young and Allison demands that Noah say she’s a bird. He refuses to do it. Why? Because if she’s a bird, she might fly away. She whines a bunch, and finally he agrees she’s a bird, and he’ll be a bird too because he’ll go where she goes.
But of course he’s not a bird because she’s a pretty swan with money and opportunities, and he’s a land-bound animal without a cent to his name. So swan = rich girl. That’s why when they’re back in the boat seven years later rowing through, like, a thousand swans, he says the birds will “go back where they came from” like he assumes she will.
The credits roll at the end of the film against a background of—you guessed it—birds. Except this time the birds are a metaphor for their souls leaving their bodies? Because they’re flying away together? Like Allie wanted? Get it?
Conclusion: too many birds.
7. Allie’s dad has an evil person mustache
Which means you already know her parents are going to try to split them up.
This movie is filled with clichés: poor guy falls in love with rich girl; snobby parents pull them apart; fate “stepping in” so that Noah sees Allie just as he’s about to give up on her; Allie sees Noah’s picture in the paper as she’s being fitted for a wedding dress; kissing in the rain; Allie’s mom was faced with the exact same choice as she is; old people dying together. But you would have thought they would have been above slapping a cartoonish mustache on a villainous character.
8. Trying to get Allie to remember everything just seems cruel
I know it’s supposed to be romantic, but isn’t it a little bit selfish for Noah to try to make Allie remember everything when he knows she’ll forget in a few minutes? When she begins to forget, she finds herself in a vulnerable situation with what she thinks is a stranger and justifiably freaks out. Doctors rush in and giver her a sedative. It just seems mean. Even the kids are not on board with the plan.
9. I’m not alone. Top critics didn’t like it either
“There’s no way to endure the movie without earplugs and a blindfold.” —Peter Travers in Rolling Stone
“Cassavetes isn’t much of a director and he never settles on a mood, which he seems intent on ruining with hiccups of goofiness.” —Manohla Dargis in the Los Angeles Times
“Considering the sunny, relatively pleasurable romantic business that precedes it, the elderly stuff seems dark, morbid, and forced upon us.” —Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe
All that said, I really like both Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as actors. The plot wasn’t their fault. And yeah, that was a pretty good kiss. No wonder they dated in real life.