Even if you’ve never seen The Notebook, it’s a well-engrained aspect of the cultural zeitgeist. Despite middling critical reception, Nick Cassavetes’ 2004 romantic drama sleeper hit (based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks) became the 15th highest grossing romantic film in history.
A large part of its success stems from co-stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, who, after a frosty introduction, fell in love for real. You can see their relationship develop in reverse; they were just getting to know each other when they shot the post-mansion renovation scenes. But by the time they shot the youthful courtship, McGos had flared up. The passion on screen is completely authentic.
Unfortunately, the script suffers from preposterousness that even Ryan and Rachel’s love can’t salvage. Narrated in “present day” by an old man to a woman suffering from dementia in a convalescent home, the story follows an “improbable romance” in the 1940s between a poor Seabrook, South Carolina townie and the daughter of a wealthy vacationing family.
Since we can’t put “the entire movie” as the most cringeworthy thing about The Notebook, we’ve chosen these 16 most egregious examples. Spoilers ahead.
16. When They Row Through Bird Poop
When Allie returns to Seabrook to feel out a relationship with Noah, things get off to a rocky start. But the tide turns when Noah takes her on a late-afternoon row through hundreds of white swans. This is one of those moments that seem romantic on paper, but the reality is that, well, birds are pooping constantly.
If you’ve ever been around even a normal amount of swans, you know that they leave a minefield of white and green turds in their wake. So imagine how gross a goose infested lake would be. Gosling and McAdams should have won Oscars just for acting so charmed and not-at-all nauseated as they pass through the bird gauntlet. It’s true that Allie has a thing for birds (see 13), but even staunch cat lovers don’t necessarily want to make snow angels in the litter box. We get that there’s a running metaphor throughout the movie about birds and migration, but does there have to be SO MANY of them to make the point?
15. When Noah Threatens Suicide To Win A Date
Allie has only known Noah for 5 minutes when he starts in with the emotional manipulation. Allie initially dismisses him after he close-talks through their introduction. And because a man should never take no for an answer, he jumps on her Ferris wheel car, and then dangles from the spokes, threatening to let go if she doesn’t agree to a date. (For the record, a man should ALWAYS take no for an answer, no matter how much you think she doesn’t mean it). Threatening suicide to win a date ranks way up there for red flags.
But it gets worse, because when she finally agrees to go out with him, he says, “Don’t do me any favors” and makes her say it three more times before finally climbing to safety. Despite being exceedingly aggressive and manipulative, this scene made Total Film’s list of 50 Most Romantic Movie Moments of All Time. That there is what we call rape culture.
14. When They Hang Out In The Street
Sure, Noah is poor, but he put so much effort into getting a date with Allie; you’d think he could come up with a better post-movie activity than Extreme Stoplight Watching. Alas, after negging her to death, Noah challenges Allie to “loosen up” by engaging in a hobby he learned from his dad (Father of the Year): lying in the middle of Main Street and watching the light change.
When Allie astutely observes that a car could come by, Noah smugly gestures to the empty street. Stupid Allie. There aren’t any cars now so there never will be again. Tired of hearing how boring she is, she lies down next to him and you’ll never guess what interrupts their conversation. It’s a car.
After that, they don’t learn a damn thing, and decide to go back into the street to dance to Noah’s off-key butchering of a Billie Holiday song. What’s especially sad is that it Allie does indeed seem like she’s having the time of her life.
13. When Allie Is A Bird
This is where they really kick that bird metaphor up a notch. On a date at the beach, Noah watches, amused, as Allie runs at the seagulls with her arms outstretched, cackling like a madwoman. The seagulls flee for their lives and then Allie turns and beams at Noah, asking, “Do you think in another life I could have been a bird?” Before he can answer, she twirls and caws, commanding that he say she’s a bird. When he refuses, she flaps her arms harder and launches toward him. And because this relationship is built on coercion, he finally says, “You’re a bird”.
If that weren’t enough, she demands that he declare himself a bird too. Somehow, Gos saves the entire scene with his reading of the line, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird”. Of all the ways that a film can show a couple in love, this is one of the weirdest. It’s also one of the only moments of autonomy that Allie exercises in the entire movie.
12. When They Undress In The Squalid Mansion
When Allie and Noah first meet, they are meant to be “kids” at the tail end of their teens. Since it’s the 1940s, it stands to reason that neither of them is particularly sexually experienced at this point. However, when Gosling and McAdams shot this scene, they were in their mid-twenties and they looked it. So when Noah lays a dusty old sheet on the floor of the decaying house, what follows is one of the least sexy disrobing sequences on celluloid.
Allie and Noah take turns removing clothing with the grace of a 5-year-old at bath time, pausing in between articles to stare at each other awkwardly. And because it’s old timey days, they both have a lot to take off. When they finally get down to business, Allie can’t stop talking about how she can’t stop talking. Before they can seal the deal, Noah’s friend, Fin, who apparently knows all about the dilapidated sex mansion, interrupts them. Someone should teach Noah the scrunchie-on-the-doorknob trick.
11. When Allie’s Parents Are Parenting
We first meet Allie’s dad when he catches her off guard on the porch. He’s in a rocking chair, smoking a cigar and undoubtedly applying regular coats of wax to his curled-up mustache. It’s not how he says, “you’re becomin’ friendly with that boy down thay-a” that’s sinister, but the way he just appears beside her looking like a cartoon villain.
The real villain is Allie’s mom, Anne, who can’t contain her disgust regarding poor people who are “Trash! Trash! Trash! Not for you!” First she hides a years’ worth of letters from Noah to Allie, and then, when it seems like Allie might be breaking her engagement to a “worthwhile” rich person, she takes Allie on a drive. Whenever she feels down about her life choices, Anne parks behind this pile of dirt and watches this one guy shovel coal. You see she too had a poor boyfriend who once looked like Ryan Gosling. But look at him now: less attractive and still poor. Then she proves she made the right call by sobbing into her daughter’s shoulder and calling herself a “stupid woman”.
10. When Noah Has Dinner At Allie’s House
Maybe Allie’s dad is a little evil, because he had to know how awkward it was going to be to have Noah at their dinner party. The other guests regard Noah like a curiosity, mouths agape when they learn he only makes “about 40 cents an hour.” (You’d think on Noah’s salary, he would know exactly how much money he was making.)
Meanwhile, Allie’s dad is drinking too much and talking about millionaire stuff. No one, not even Noah and his equally down-and-out friend Fin, acknowledges the people of color who are serving their food. And then Anne brings up the Spanish Inquisition, asking Noah passive-aggressive geography questions to prove how impossible their love will be once Allie starts college. In case you couldn’t tell, the subtext of this scene is that Noah and Allie can never work because they are from two different worlds.
9. Whenever Noah And Allie Fight
This is why young women have unhealthy expectations about relationships. According to this (and 1000 other movies), you’re not really in love with someone unless you’re screaming at each other in public and breaking up every other day. Right after Allie dumps Noah for the last time, her remorse is immediate, and she chases after his car, shouting, “Tomorrow will be like it never happened, right?” This pattern is clearly the stuff of lasting relationships.
Seven years later, when Allie is trying to choose between two men (because it has to be one or the other), Noah tries to win her over by telling her that she’s a pain in the ass, “99% of the time” and he’s “not afraid to hurt [her] feelings”. Then, to really bring it home, he starts shouting at her, “What do you want?” over and over again. Have you ever tried to make a life altering decision while someone is yelling at you?
8. When Noah & Allie’s Kids Visit
Allie is confused when the nurse announces, “Your children have arrived.” But then the nurse clarifies “Not YOUR children. HIS children,” as if these people are only here to see Duke. Is it standard practice to straight up lie to dementia patients? Allie and Duke’s offspring introduce themselves in turn, including the bafflingly named grandchild, “DAVE-KNEE”. Then they all gawk at each other until Allie sighs and excuses herself for a nap.
After she’s gone, one of their daughters observes that this is one of her “good days”, despite her complete lack of recall. Noah goes off about miracles, while the kids exchange frustrated glances. Then their other daughter begs Duke to come home because they miss him. But Duke refuses, saying, “Your mother is my home”. It’s a sweet sentiment in regard to Allie, but it’s got to feel like an affront to his kids. Sorry, DAVE-KNEE, Grandpa is never coming home again. He wants to stay here and die with grandma.
7. When Duke Has A Doctor’s Appointment
We learn that Duke/Noah lives in the nursing home when he is summoned for a doctor’s appointment. Dr. Barnwell, the new attending physician likes to introduces himself to the residents by taking their vitals. He mentions that Duke has had 2 heart attacks in the last 18 months, setting up his fragility to lend “credibility” to the final scene. Duke curmudgeons his way through Dr. Barnwell’s requests. But Duke can’t help himself when Doc suggests he isn’t going to cure his wife’s Alzheimer’s by reading her their diary every day.
“I read to her and she remembers,” Duke insists. “But senile dementia is irreversible,” reasons Dr. Barnwell. “That’s what they keep telling me,” sighs Duke. Never one to listen to what everyone keeps telling him, he “wins” with a surefire way to inform a doctor you aren’t interested in facts. “You know what they say. Science goes only so far and then comes God.” Gotcha.
6. When Noah Does War For 20 Seconds
Since the story takes place in the 1940s, the young male protagonist must join the war effort sometime. But Noah’s time in the army sure is skimmed the hell over. In a quick montage, Noah and Fin enlist and then suddenly they’re in uniform laughing and smoking in the “African Desert”. One second later, the pals are “in Europe” (no need to get specific, Noah), blithely marching through snow. Somehow, no one notices over a dozen enemy planes until they are RIGHT above them. Firebomb, firebomb.
Noah can’t find Fin because during less than 1 minute of action, Fin has already bitten the dust. Gosling must have sensed the half-assedness of the scene, because he really phones it in here. He yells for Fin, immediately spots him, and runs to his friend’s limp, snow-covered body. The Gos regards his dead BFF with a super casual look, and then gets distracted by something to the left. And SCENE!
5. When Noah Lists His House
In the middle of Noah’s squalid mansion overhaul, his father dies. Duke narrates, “The house was all [Noah] had”. So naturally, when it’s finally done, he decides to put it on the market. But he keeps turning people away. “Either the bids were too low, or if they met his asking price, he felt it was worth a lot more.” When an affluent couple offers him $50K, “$5000 over his price”, he immediately pulls out a shotgun, which he has stashed in the truck bed behind him, and chases them to their swanky car. “No one in his right mind would do that,” Duke explains. “and he wouldn’t have a lunatic living in *his* house.”
Apparently, Noah doesn’t understand that once you sell a house, you don’t get to keep living there. It becomes someone else’s house. And isn’t the whole point to get as much money as possible? Someone needs to explain real estate to Noah.
4. When Allie Drives Her Car Into A Fence.
When the otherwise engaged Allie drives out to Noah’s house on a whim, she hasn’t really thought it through. Noah meets her as she’s getting out of the car and she bumbles through an explanation. “Hello,” she says, as if talking to a child she doesn’t really know. Noah doesn’t speak, so she rambles a bit about seeing his house in the paper and wanting to check on him. Noah stays mum, peering at her from around a beer. Allie decides to bail, muttering that she’s a “stupid woman” as she climbs back into her car. And then she immediately crashes into a fence – just like a stupid woman (NOTE: this is the movie talking).
At this point, you’ve gotta feel for Allie, because everyone has told her what to do her whole life, and when she finally decides to follow her heart, she panics and drives her insurance rates through the roof.
3. Everything About The Notebook
Despite the fact that Noah is going by Duke, and his wife has reverted to her maiden name, it’s pretty clear early on how these two narratives are connected. But it’s still a little surprising when a shot of the title page reveals that this is a story Allie and Noah wrote together before she succumbed to the dementia.
If the whole point of The Notebook is to remind Allie of their life together, why does Duke spend so much time reading flowery passages like this: “Summer romances begin for all kinds of reasons, but when all is said and done, they have one thing in common. They’re shooting stars, a spectacular moment of light in the heavens, fleeting glimpse of eternity, and in a flash they’re gone.”
2. When The People Of Color Are Stereotypes And Set Pieces
Every time a person of color is on screen in The Notebook, it’s deeply uncomfortable. You’ve got Allie’s stereotypically exuberant nanny; the butler that Allie angrily pushes past in a huff; the people silently serving dinner while the party guests pretend the food appeared out of thin air; the kindly couple at Noah’s dad’s funeral who wordlessly comfort him and are never seen again; and the people providing the live the entertainment.
True, most of the movie takes place in pre-civil rights South Carolina. But if you feel you must whitewash the story because who has time to address the plight of minorities when there are perfectly good white people being oppressed, it would be less insulting to avoid it altogether rather than relegate persons of color to the background. It was nice of them to fit some speaking parts into the nursing home scenes, but those characters don’t really have personalities beyond “sassy” and “working here”.
1. When Noah And Allie Die Together
This is another thing that sounds great on paper. How sweet! An old couple in love nearly their entire lives die at the same time so that one doesn’t have to spend a moment without the other. But when we see it play out in The Notebook, it looks implausible and more than a little silly. Even with two stellar actors like James Garner and Gena Rowlands (the director’s mom, BTW), the scene plays more like a Lifetime TV movie than an Oscar bait moment.
Most of the blame lies with the dialog. As Noah predicted (take that, science), Allie has a moment of clarity in the middle of the night, and basically says, “This is kind of a shitty situation. What if we both just, like, died right now?” “I think our love can do anything we want it to,” replies Noah the old unshakable optimist. Yeah, except for cure Alzheimer’s.
Did we miss anything? Completely disagree? Let us know in the comments!
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