Ten years ago last week, The Notebook took our nation's feel-holes by storm. Nick Cassavetes's adaptation of Nicholas Sparks's novel—starring Ryan Gosling at PEAK shoulder-to-waist ratio—struck some emotional brown note of sentimentality and hunkiness and forbidden love and manipulative sentimentality, and remains the standard by which all other romantic weepies are judged. I've seen people get misty-eyed just talking about this movie. I've slipped on puddles of cry-snot in the Mead aisle at Walgreens. But even though I love vintage dresses and kissing as much as the next lady-blogger, somehow I bumbled through this entire decade without ever actually watching The Notebook. So today, in honor of its (belated) birthday, I took the plunge.
And I have to say.
Not only did I not cry at The Notebook, The Notebook actually reached inside my face and dried up all future tears like The Notebook is Scar and my tear ducts are the Pride Lands. The "best" thing I can say about The Notebook is that it isn't as bad as Love, Actually.
Allow me to elaborate.
We open at some kind of fancy old folks' convalescence palace. Gee-shucks "simple guy" James Garner shows up to read out loud to senile silver fox Gena Rowlands, but Gena Rowlands's nurse is like, "She's really not into it today. Thanks anyway." Kicking off a trend of men-Red-Rovering-through-women's-boundaries-like-Ram-Man-but-horny that will come to define the entire film, James Garner is like, "2 BAD SO SAD" and barges in there anyway. He begins reading some of his Ryan Gosling fanfic out of a notebook (THAT'S A REFERENCE), and it goes a little something like this:
It's June 6, 1940 in Seabrook Island, South Carolina, and Ryan Gosling is at a carnival. Suddenly, he spots a sexy babe on the bumper cars and his nostrils flare so wide you can see his brain.
She's perfect! She's so beautiful! She's said like 4 syllables so far and none of them have been just a faucet of hot drool! She probably has other qualities that are also valuable in a woman and I will get back to you ASAP as soon as I think of any! He HAS GOT TO HAVE HER. (Literally. He literally says, "When I see something that I like, I gotta have it.") Unfortunately, the lady—Rachel McAdams—turns out to be a human being, kind of, so she's like, "Get away from me, weirdly aggressive nostril man."
Ne'er one to be friendzoned, the Goz comes up with a charming scheme to win her over (Approach #1710: The Borderline Personality Disorder Gambit). He simply climbs on to the spokes of a moving Ferris Wheel and threatens to throw himself into the deadly, grinding machinery unless she agrees to go on a date with him! Cute!!! Instead of fucking screaming in terror at the mentally ill stranger coercing her into touching his penis by blaming her for his imminent gory public suicide (THE ULTIMATE NEG) and then waiting for the police to arrive after which Gosling can hopefully get the psychiatric and emotional help he needs, Rachel McAdams is like, "Okey dokey! But I'm getting an appeteaser AND an entree!!!"
To repeat a relevant point from my Love, Actually review, this is a movie made for women by a man.
For their big first date, Goz knows he needs to turn the romance up a notch, but he kind of shot his creephole wad at the carnival. Finally, though, he gets it. What's hotter than a suicide? How about a double suicide? (Math: It is literally TWICE AS HOT!)
"Just relax," he says, as he leads McAdams out into the middle of a main thoroughfare. "You need to learn how to trust." Then he has her lie down next to him in the street, underneath the traffic light. He points up. At the light. That's the date. Lie in the crosswalk and look at the traffic light.
Now, I don't mean to get all Microsoft Encarta on you, Goz, but I'm pretty sure the word you're looking for here isn't "trust," it's "hope." We trust that pedestrians and cars will obey the traffic laws designed to keep everyone safe, such as "don't drive on the sidewalk" and "don't fucking take a nap in the middle of the fucking street because that's where the fucking cars go." And we hope that creepy jackasses don't do reckless shit to impress their girlfriends, such as placing their vulnerable skulls in the paths of oncoming Chryslers whose drivers are just trying to get home from canasta without squishing any teenage brains. Also, you know you can see the traffic lights from the sidewalk, right? It is arguably a better angle. COULD YOU PLEASE GO OVER THE COST/BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF THIS ACTIVITY ONE MORE TIME.
But apparently Gosling's 'stincts are right on, because McAdams is so exhilarated by almost getting run over that she presses her boday against his in a sensual dance.
"BLAH BLAH BLAH," James Garner cuts in, folksily. "BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH."
Oh, cool, this part's back. Old Guy Reads Out Loud: The Movie.
"It was an improbable romance," James Garner Garn-splains. Yes. How can a beautiful white woman ever be with a beautiful white man!?!??!?! (Speaking of white people, BTW, this movie would be a lot less sympathetic if they made the characters as racist as those people would have been IRL. Kudos on totally whitewashing this region and time period while scoring it mostly with music by black artists, by the way. Do you know how hard it is to give a shit about Ryan Gosling's unrequited teenage crush while listening to Billie Holiday?)
Next, this actual dialogue happens:
McAdams: You think in another life I coulda been a bird?
Goz: What do you mean?
McAdams: CAW CAW SAY I'M A BIRD!!! SAY IT!
Goz: You're a bird.
McAdams: Now say you're a bird too.
Goz: If you're a bird, I'm a bird.
Wait. Is this screenplay literally a bird's diary? Because that would explain why everyone is constantly screeching and obsessed with flapping around in lakes.
McAdams makes Goz go to a rich-people dinner so she can introduce him to her dad's mustache. Some fancy-lad asks Goz how much money he makes at the dirty poor-hole where he works, and Goz, in that horrible poor way he has, is like, "Forty cents an hour!" (Then McAdams's mom is like POOOOOOOOOR RAAAAAAAAAAGE!!! and nickels shoot out of her ears on jets of steam.)
After dinner, Goz takes McAdams to a haunted house in the woods and goes, "It's time. Now I'm going to fuck you on a ghost." But before they get down to it, McAdams insists on talking about shutters for an hour, because women, until he promises to build her a mansion LITERALLY COVERED IN SHUTTERS. Then she's like, "OKAY, DO ME ON THIS DERELICT MOUSE PIANO!"
(Question: In olden times, how did they even know how to do it? Like, before sex ed, when everything was supposed to be a secret? It's not like now-times, when Gosling would have watched literally 10,000 hours of instructional video by this point. Vintage intercourse must have been THE DRYEST WORST.)
McAdams takes her shirt off and Gosling's like, "I knew you had boobs. I knew all along."
Then Gosling takes his pants off and is like, "And yes. I have one. One penis."
Then McAdams takes off her underpants and is like, "Well, are you ready for this? My lower part?"
But then, right at penetration o'clock, Kevin Connolly busts in all, "YOU GOTTA PUT IT AWAY, MAN! HER PARENTS CALLED THE SEX COPS!!!"
So they all get hauled back to the McAdams plantation for a lecture about why rich penises are better than poor penises, and mom gets major harsh: "He's a nice boy, but he is TRASH TRASH TRASH NOT FOR YOU" (that sentence takes a dark turn real fast). Goz runs outside all wounded-masculine and tells McAdams that they can't be together because he knows he'll NEVER BE ABLE TO BUY HER THE SHUTTERS SHE DESERVES, so McAdams gets all defensive and Harry and the Hendersonses him and he runs away to cry in his swamp-house until death. Romance is abolished.
McAdams moves to New York to go to Sarah Lawrence, and Gosling moves to Atlanta to go to army. He writes her one letter every day for a year ("that's 365 letters"—thanks, movie), but little does he know, Mother McAdams is squirreling all of his letters away in her secret hex box lined with poor-people skin! Apparently McAdams is incapable of looking up Gosling's address and sending him a letter, which would be a fucking irritating plot hole except I'm not sure if you can make a hole in a perpetual sucking void of meaninglessness.
At this point James Garner pipes up to say, "If summer romances have one thing in common, it's that they're shooting stars!" LET ME STOP YOU THERE, J-GARN. BECAUSE THEY HAVE AT LEAST TWO THINGS IN COMMON RIGHT UP FRONT, WHICH ARE 1) THEY'RE ROMANCES…2) THAT HAPPEN IN THE SUMMER. I MEAN THIS IN THE MOST RESPECTFUL POSSIBLE WAY, BUT ARE YOU SURE GENA ROWLANDS IS THE SENILE ONE.
Meanwhile, in World War 2, Kevin Connoly dies. Like, four seconds after he gets there. It is possibly the most inept scene in all of media.
McAdams goes to work at a hospital for wounded soldiers. "To her," Garner intones, "the broken men with shattered bodies who filled the ward were all [Goz], or someone who fought beside him in the jungle or the frozen snow-swept road." YOU GUYS. FOR FUCK'S SAKE. SHE DOESN'T EVEN KNOW HE'S IN THE ARMY. SHE HASN'T GOTTEN ANY OF HIS 365 BORING-ASS LETTERS, REMEMBER? THIS NOT-GETTING-THE-LETTERS MIX-EM-UP IS LIKE THE DETAIL THAT YOUR WHOLE MOVIE HINGES ON.
One of her patients, James Marsden, starts hitting on her at work even though he's heavily medicated, they've never had a real conversation, and she's just trying to do her fucking job without some dude in a full-body cast constantly pointing at his papier-mâché boner. After he recovers, he tracks her down at her school and is like, "Look! I got my cast off! [WINK] Let's date!" And so they do. And then he proposes. So she says yes. Because why not.
Yo, does this really have to be McAdams's life? Just endlessly stalked and followed and watched and obsessed over by every man she ever meets? And then she has to say "thank you" and call it "love"?
REMINDER: THIS IS A MOVIE FOR WOMEN MADE BY MEN.
Gosling comes home from the war and—being the king of healthy impulses—decides to buy that dilapidated ghost-shack where he almost put it in McAdams all those years earlier and fix it up.
PRETTY sure this guy's a tear-down, but okay, buddy.
Goz spends all of his time obsessively working on the house. One time he sees McAdams out of the bus window and chases her down the street, only to discover her making out with Marsden in a cafe. So instead of talking to her or being normal, he just breathes heavily behind a bush and then goes home and has cry-sex with a war widow whom he's TOO BROKEN TO LOVE. (Note to my partner: If I ever get dementia, and you show up to read me the same story every fucking day, feel free to leave out the part where you bang the war widow. It's not necessary. Quit braggin', man.)
One day, McAdams is trying on literally the world's ugliest harlequin jester vampire wedding sack when she spots a photo of Gosling and his stupid house in the newspaper.
She rushes into Marsden's office and is like, "Listen. Bro. I have to go on a trip that definitely has 100% absolutely zero to do with Ryan Gosling's magnificent penis. Also, I never paint anymore, which apparently is a beloved hobby of mine that barely been mentioned once in this entire film but is now a major emotional sticking point. The fact that I've quit painting is somehow your Ryan Gosling's penis. I MEAN FAULT. You are like the dad from Footloose but for painting. I hatechoo. LATER."
She goes to Ryan Gosling's house and immediately drives her car through his fence like a CLASSIC WOMAN.
Then we have to spend 20 minutes watching footage from James Garner's actual doctor's appointment. The doctor asks James Garner why he spends so much time reading out loud to Gena Rowlands. "Science only takes you so far," Garner says. "And then comes god." I wonder if there are audience members, at this point in the movie, who are still wondering how the Garner/Rowlands storyline relates to the Gosling/McAdams storyline. If so, I think those people should have to go live on an island and weave their own shoes. Like, I find it hard to believe that Gena Rowlands didn't see where this was going by minute three.
Gosling and McAdams have dinner and then he asks her to come back in the morning. "There's something I'd like to show you."
IT'S MY PENIS. It's always been my penis.
Meanwhile, James Garner's kids show up at the old folks' home and are like, "Daaaaaad, stop reading your notebook to this old lady over and over. She doesn't even like you." But Garner refuses: "That's my sweetheart in there. This is my home now. Your mother is my home." I live in your mom. I'll never forget the first time I "lived" in your mom. Here's a fucking four-hour movie about it.
In the morning, Marsden calls McAdams's hotel room and she's like OH GAH GOO GOO GAR GAR NO NOTHING'S WRONG I'M NOT BEING WEIRD YOU'RE THE ONE BEING WEIRD (nailed it—he suspects nothing) and then goes back to Gosling's house for her "surprise." He rows her out into this goose-infested swamp (the part this movie leaves out is that geese are rank, shit-covered bite-monsters, but I guess it's okay because they are his kin), even though he knows it's about to start pouring down rain and says so before they get in the boat.
When it starts raining, both of them are like, "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"
"OH MY GOD, THE RAIN TOLD THE FUNNIEST JOKE."
And then she's like why didn't you write me, and he's like I wrote you 365 letters, and she's like oh okay I forgive you, and they lick each other's faces, and geese are watching, and then it's time for penis-in-vagina (for best results, as you watch the sex scene, remember that James Garner is describing it all to an old lady with dementia). In the morning, McAdams wakes up to a special gift from Gosling. He got her some painting stuff!!! Because he's not like James Marsden, who made PAINTING ILLEGAL.
Mom shows up and warns them that Marsden is coming, and then drives McAdams over to the quarry and is like, "See that dirty laborer? I used to love him but I abandoned him because I'm a classist shithead who loved shutters. JUST LIKE YOU. So now I just come here sometimes and stare at him and masturbate in my car. Just kidding, I am repressed." Then she finally hands over all the letters she intercepted from Gosling, and literally says—as far as I can discern—"I've been keeping these inside my ball bag for seven years."
I've been keeping these inside my ball bag for seven years. I'VE BEEN KEEPING THESE INSIDE MY BALL BAG FOR SEVEN YEARS.
I was confused at first, but later found out that "ball bag" was 1940s southern slang for nutsack.
Then Gosling and McAdams get in one last fight, because this movie needed to be longer, and he tells her that she's "a pain in the ass 99% of the time." That means that he loves her approximately three and a half days per year. The rest of the time she makes him feel like a spear or dagger is literally stabbing him in his asshole.
So McAdams like "I have to go." (Whispering: "Number two.")
Feeling conflicted, she goes to hang out with Marsden, hoping that it'll help her make up her mind. Marsden tells her, "In spite of everything, I love you," which is almost as hot a pick-up line as "You are a pain in the ass 99% of the time." HOW WILL SHE CHOOSE BETWEEN THESE CASANOVAS. WAS THIS DIALOGUE WRITTEN BY MYSTERY?
Uuuuuuuugh, anyway, she chooses Gosling, OF COURSE, and then they animorph into James Garner and Gena Rowlands, and then James Garner's magic notebook cures Gena Rowlands's dementia for five minutes—you know, like medical science—but every time the skeptical doctor comes in she goes back to being senile again because she's like the Michigan J. Frog of dementia, and then we find out that the title of the notebook is The Story of Our Lives (HEY, WHY DON'T YOU JUST CALL IT BOOK), and it turns out the notebook was Tom Riddle's diary all along, and then Gena Rowlands is like, "Do you think we could just die together real quick?" and he's like "Yeah, prolly," so then they do. Cause of death: Felt like it. Cause of death: Hospital food, amirite? Cause of death: Basilisk.
And that's how Ryan Gosling got laid one time.