Ask a group of millennials to name a classic romantic film from the modern era and nine out of ten will say “The Notebook,” which turns 15 this week. Despite what you’re about to read, the truth is that great cinematic romances are few and far between, particularly in the past few decades, so it’s of little wonder that the generation starved of great on-screen loves regards “The Notebook” so highly.
Based on the Nicolas Sparks novel of the same name, the film leapt into the heart of America in June of 2004, filling the screen with saccharine scenes of childhood crushes, forbidden love, grand romantic gestures, and narrowly avoided tragedies. It had all the makings of a movie for the ages and wormed its way into everyone’s memory bank as one of the great cinematic love stories.
Viewers cooed over Ryan Gosling’s unassuming, romantic good-guy lead as Noah and Rachel McAdams’ clever charm as Allie. Matched by late-in-life performances from icons James Garner and Gena Rowlands, “The Notebook” told the story of a lifelong, head-over-heels love that was cruelly interrupted by various villains and events that didn’t regard the power of the romance. The film successfully pulled at the heartstrings of millions who clamored to see a muscle-bound Gosling passionately kissing McAdams in a rain storm.
Age was not kind to the main characters and their love. Sadly, age has not done the film itself any favors over the past 15 years either. The flash of Gosling’s aw-shucks smile and McAdams’s southern belle confidence has worn away with time, revealing the true nature of “The Notebook.” It’s just not very good.
Peel away Gosling’s charm and you are left a hollow performance that relies heavily on the actor’s good looks which, frankly, are overshadowed by Gosling’s current appearance. McAdams, a Canadian actress, tried her best to convince the audience with her southern accent but the performance was, at best, distractingly bad.
The script leaned hard on big moments and dramatic pauses, doing very little to build complexity into the characters and their lives. The love story portrayed two people so wildly obsessed with each other that it would and should be impossible for anyone to truly relate to them. The motivations were so full of wild, pubescent fantasy that it would be more apt to compare the story to Jonas Brothers fan fiction written by a 13-year-old than to a classic film like “Casablanca” or even “Dirty Dancing.”
Then there’s the ending. (Spoilers ahead, for those who somehow haven’t seen this movie.) Garner and Rowlands, both at the end of their careers and with more awards and glory than they could ever have dreamed, do their level best to inject life into the story of an elderly couple about to die, but the script simply didn’t live up to the older actors’ legendary status.
The film’s attempt to surprise the audience with a late reveal of their identity as elderly Noah and Allie was emotionally manipulative at best, but felt more like a cheap attempt to evoke tears from an audience they had cooed and molded with a dramatic score and loud proclamations of love for the previous 90 minutes.
Unlike some other films that age poorly, “The Notebook” isn’t a movie that deserves criticism for a clumsy attempt at a political message, it didn’t star an actor who has since fallen from grace, and it managed to steer clear of modern thought police landmines that have blown several older films out of the water. It was just guilty of being a bad movie that didn’t get any better with time.
For the past 15 years, I’ve listened and not judged when reasonable fans of film and romance offered their glowing opinions of “The Notebook.” But on this landmark anniversary, I’ve chosen to break my silence. “The Notebook” is a bad movie, and it always has been.