Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Movie Review: The Notebook

The Notebook is the tale of two lusty narcissists, separated by circumstances, but destined to follow their shallow passions.  An old man narrates this tale to his wife who is in the first stages of dementia.  Ladies and gentlemen, I have taken the cynical route.  Many would call this movie a chick flick, but this is a cop-out to avoid talking about its flaws.  The movie is lacking in substance.  The main characters are tremendously selfish.  The side characters are mostly flat.

Many people would consider this movie a "chick flick."  I dislike that classification in general.  What does it mean?  Few people can define it, but they know it when they see it.  To my knowledge, it means a romance or romatic comedy that isn't good.  I've been told that Casablanca is not a chick flick.  The whole classification is largely just a cop-out to dismiss negative male opinions.  "Oh, you just didn't like it because it's a chick flick."  No.  I didn't like a movie because it was terrible.  Now I will note my gender-neutral criticisms of The Notebook.

This movie has little to no substance.  It has the main problems common to romace movies.  Allie and Noah make out.  Allie and Noah have sex.  Allie and Noah do blandly cute and romantic things.  Then there's the drama.  This movie has some, albeit very few, scenes that might have been good if they were backed up by any substance.  The drama is strong in spurts and the cinematography is sometimes very pretty.  It all makes for popular Youtube clips and fan-made music videos.  Most of the beats are seriously overplayed.  The subtext in this movie is so obvious, it nearly becomes context.  No scene can just be.  It all has to be beating us over the head with some narrative point.  Every scene feels manipulative and carefully crafted, not spontaneous or genuine.  Good drama should often feel as though it has the flow of life, while it actually discreetly follows narrative form.

The two main characters are selfish people and slaves to feelings.  Noah falls for Allie despite the fact that her personality completely changes once they get together.  What was he falling for besides her looks.  I guess I can't blame him on that account.  Noah and Allie have sex right before Noah breaks up with her.  Nowhere does the movie acknowledge that this was a bad idea or that it makes Noah a jerk.  Later, he sleeps with another woman he doesn't love at all.  Oh, poor Noah.  While engaged, Allie meets up with Noah again, nearly leaves because she's uncomfortable, but is instead easily seduced by Noah.  When his other lover shows up, she's invited in and Allie and her become friends.  When her mother finds out, she becomes indignant that her mother might think her a tramp.  I say, if the shoe fits.  In the end, Noah and Allie indulgently get together after all.  Times have changed from when movies like Casablanca left audiences with the idea that certain moral imperatives trump feelings.  This movie is about feelings uber alles.

The movie has some other characters who are a mixed bag.  James Garner gives a moving performance with some gravitas.  It's pretty obvious who he is in the story, although some commentators claim it's meant to be a mystery.  Gena Rowlands is mostly wasted and barely does anything.  Their angle in the story is moving, but anti-climactic.  Allie's second suitor, Lon, played by James Marsden, is one of the worst characters in the entire movie.  He's not an actual person with thoughts, feelings and a life of his own.  He's a two-dimensional narrative obstacle meant to get in the way of Noah and Allie getting together.  When he finds out she cheated, he's a complete pushover, and without a show of anger, he quietly permits her to leave while humbly asking her to stay.  This allows the audience to enjoy the ending with a clear conscience.  Most of the other characterizations are either blandly goodhearted working-class southerners or blandly arrogant well-to-do southerners.  In the "making of" video, the director claims looking at a culture and region from the outside let's people appreciate things that an insider takes for granted, but I say outsider bias generally leads to bland brush strokes and stereotypes.

In the end, The Notebook is a shallow, overdone movie that tries way too hard.

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