Chick Flix Club: The Notebook


[Chick Flix Club examines films within the female driven comedy/drama genres (otherwise colloquially referred to as “chick flicks”) in order to understand why we may or may not adore these flicks despite not being in the intended demographic] 

The Notebook is the third Nicholas Sparks book to get an adaptation, but it’s arguably the film that blew him up and made made him a romantic household name (even though A Walk to Remember is miles ahead of it). With today being a special day for some reason or another (I, for one, am going to the dentist), the club has decided to tackle a film that’s more “romantic” than anything the club has done in the past. Now why has the club avoided straight romance for the past year? Well, because most of the time it’s overwrought and hokey. 

The Notebook somehow ends up differently. Sure it’s still cheesy and heavy handed in some areas, but I’m not sure why it’s still affecting. Perhaps it’s the season, perhaps its my crushingly romantic side, or perhaps it’s just the fact that I haven’t slept in 20 hours. Nevertheless, time for the good stuff. 

Since this is a typically romantic film, I have to change the focus of the club (with some of the old club sprinkled in here and there). You’ll see what I mean. Now for the questions. What about The Notebook makes is a romance film that works? Did I cry like a little baby at the end like I did with A Walk to Remember? Does any of this matter? Read on and find out. Oh and if you haven’t seen The Notebook yet, be known there are spoilers ahoy hoy. 

The Notebook is ultimately a story of two ungodly attractive people falling in love. It’s admittedly basic, with nothing particularly new in terms of content. What makes it stand out however, is the framing device from which The Notebook is told. The Notebook is the story of Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams), and their older counterparts (though that fact is slowly revealed as the film continues, but is predictable from the outset), and how they meet, break up for several years due to class shenanigans, and then fall in love once again once it’s totes okay with everybody.The story is framed by an older Noah reading bits out of the titular notebook to an elderly Allie who is now a victim of some kind of unclear version of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (I’ll get to that reveal later). 

As with all of these romance stories, there is an established balance of power between the central male and female characters that tends to stagnate through the stories (although it may shift once or twice). What The Notebook does differently (and its what makes it work as a romance overall) is the fact that power is constantly fluctuating, and sometimes unreadable. These fluctuations help add to the playfulness of their teenage, loving, relationship (they’re supposed to portray 17 year olds and it works for the most part). For example when Noah tries to first get Allie to go on a date with him, he seemingly manipulates her by putting himself in some sort of simulated danger (he hangs from a ferris wheel). Allie then refuses to acknowledge that she agreed to a date with him. Despite Noah’s strong persona, it never once feels like Allie does something against her will. And that’s also where the central “chick flick” formula changes as well. 

Sure Notebook has the man candy (Ryan Gosling and James Marsden), a male entering a female’s life, but it never once feels like Noah changes her life forever. Sure that might be a consequence of the framing device (remember that the story is told, and “written” with Noah’s perspective), but it seems that Allie was looking for a way out of her life and used Noah to change it. That’s a HUGE deal. For once it’s not a man making the woman realize she needs a life change, it’s the woman deciding for herself. And because of the story is told through Noah’s perspective, Noah’s life changes are more prominent than Allie’s. Noah almost plays the standardized female role in the formula. 

Throughout the film, we see more of how Noah reacts to every situation more so than Allie and that forces the tone of the film in a certain direction. While it’s an awkward tone at first and takes some getting used to, by the end of the film, you can’t help but get sucked into it. As Noah plays into the standard female role, you start rooting for him to succeed despite his intrinsically scummy nature. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, Noah seemingly coaxes a date out of Allie through dubious means. When Allie leaves him (after he fights with her because he overheard jerk comments from her parents), he becomes a slovenly drunk who emotionally abuses the one woman who still has sex with him. I forget her name (for some reason) and she is a forgetful character, but that’s unfortunate. One of the most awkward, yet heartbreaking scenes was when that nameless woman realizes Noah has gotten back together with Allie. She’s crying and says something about Allie being “his one.” 

While the film and Noah’s perspective tell us we’re supposed to root for him (I kind of did), how are we supposed to react to a jerk of a character who still gets what he wants? The short answer is, we don’t. We don’t react to Noah’s subtleties and just let them wash away with the rain. And that’s…that’s hokey. 

Now the better story involves the older versions of Noah and that one lady from Paulie. By this point, Noah and Allie have children and now Allie lives in a medical home. Noah is distressed that she has lost her memory (through an unexplained disease, which I’ll call “love disease” because movies), and reads the notebook he wrote all of his adventures in to her everyday in an effort to bring her back to lucidity. And since I’m a hopeless romantic for some reason, I loved this part. There’s no power struggle between them, no distracting formula, just pure romance. The only hold up is when Allie regains her memories then quickly loses them mid sentence, resulting in one of the worst acted, worst written scenes in the film. 

Oh well. All in all, The Notebook is a romance story told through a male perspective (which also leads to lots of sideboob, if that’s your thing). That male perspective shifts the formula and gives the female in the relationship more power for once. And even if that’s a flourish given by the framing device, the fact that a woman makes her own decisions deserves merit. If you decide to watch anything tonight with your significant other, you could choose worse I guess. Happy Valentine’s Day. 

Next month, the club is getting a special guest contribution from Geoffrey Geoffers Geoffable Geofferson Starship Geoff Henao in which he’ll discuss the Chick Flix Club’s first foreign film because he needs to be difficult… 

The CFC will return in March with… Amélie

January: Pretty Woman

November: Legally Blonde