I am not a woman who is afraid of an obvious choice. I shamelessly enjoy peonies, Paris and Audrey Hepburn movie posters. So it has always been a great riddle that I have somehow managed to reach the age of 28 without watching The Notebook, the 2004 seminal romantic film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams that is loved by millennial women the world over.
All I know before I go in is that there’s a passionate kiss in the rain and it’s set in the 1940s or 1950s, judging by the A-line skirts and Victory Rolls I’ve seen in stills posted on Instagram from time to time. I imagine that – like all populist love stories since Erich Segal’s – there’s also some sort of obligatory line about affairs of the heart that’s self-explanatory and now iconic, like: “love is happiness.”
The film opens with a few shots of the sunset and some birds. This is no doubt symbolic. An elegant old lady looks out of a window wistfully. I assume this is an elderly version of one of the younger lead actresses, because there’s no way Hollywood would open a film with a woman over 40 unless she is solely a tear-jerking, heart-string-pulling vehicle for flashbacks.
Enter flashback number one. We are introduced to Allie (McAdams) and Noah (Gosling), who meet for the first time at a fairground. The decade is unclear; Noah’s wearing a newsboy cap that makes him look like an extra in Oliver! He falls in love with Allie instantly despite knowing nothing about her because we’re in well-trodden rom-com territory where people declare their love for each other based upon physical appearance alone. But, quel dommage, she’s not interested. To win her over, he jumps onto a moving ferris wheel and asks her to go out with him. She says no and he hangs off the bar until she finally agrees. A thousand impressionable young male viewers are inspired to become stalkers. This movie is bullshit.
But Noah, still wearing that hat, woos her at a movie double date. He tries some sophisticated reverse psychology by telling her that her problem is that she doesn’t do what she wants. She protests, but he says she can only prove otherwise by lying in the middle of the road. They nearly die and she finds this hilarious. Here begins the period of the movie I like to call Allie’s Laughing and Screaming About Nothing phase.
A Billie Holiday track comes on and there’s a wide shot of some lovely dancing. Oh god, this is quite charming isn’t it? I’m quite charmed by this movie.
Next up, a falling-in-love montage. I continue to be charmed. They eat ice cream, there’s more screaming and laughing about nothing. They go to the beach and she’s all: “TELL ME I’M A BIRD TELL ME I’M A BIRD!” for no reason, no doubt setting up a metaphor that will be overextended later.
The old man voiceover tells me that Noah didn’t have two pennies to rub together, whereas Allie had everything. I understand the horrid newsboy cap is supposed to denote their differing socio-economic backgrounds. He teaches her country things like driving and swimming.
We are introduced to Allie’s parents, who appear to be rich, judgemental disciplinarians. Her father looks like a 1920s detective with a twiddly mustache and a cigar. They meet Noah and disapprove of him. Allie’s imperious mother drops the bomb that Allie is going to college in faraway New York. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know where this movie is set.
There’s more hysterical, giddy screaming and a lot of jumping in rivers. I’m worried Allie’s going to contract Weil’s disease at this rate.
They go to an abandoned house that Noah plans to buy one day. Allie says she’d like to live there with him. She plays an out-of-tune piano seductively and they decide to have sex. God, Ryan Gosling’s got a great body. Is this why everyone does those “Hey Girl” memes about him? Maybe he’s quite attractive? I think he is, you know.
They don’t get to consummate their relationship because Allie’s 1920s detective dad, true to form, has sent out a search party for her. She gets back to her parents’ house and they are incandescent with rage because their perfect daughter wants to be with a lowly construction worker.
I look away for a few moments to check my eBay app for an Equipment silk blouse in my size, and when I look back up, I’ve obviously missed something, because Allie is screaming and hitting Noah and is saying “I HATE YOU, GET OUT, WAIT WE’RE NOT BREAKING UP ARE WE??” This girl is a RIOT!
Back to the old couple from the beginning. I think they might be an old Allie and an old Noah. I think Noah is trying to remind her of her old life. Is this a dementia storyline?
Years have passed and Allie’s evil mother has been hiding Noah’s letters. I can’t bear it. Allie is in love with a new, very sexy guy named Lon. He’s rich, so her parents love him. Who is this actor? He’s attractive in a very chiseled, essence-of-man way. He’d make a great Superman. I’m going to go on his Wikipedia. Oh my god, he already played Superman! I should be a casting director.
I’m paying attention again and Allie and Superman are engaged. Meanwhile, Noah’s finally purchased his dream bachelor pad. Noah sees Allie in town and watches her and Lon through a restaurant window, realizing she’s engaged because she waves her hand around to flash the ring in a way that furthers the plot seamlessly.
True to form, Allie is in peak-scream while trying on a wedding dress. That is, until she sees a photo of Noah and his newly renovated house in the paper. She faints.
“This is a good story, I think I’ve heard it before,” says the old lady in the old people’s home. Now I think about it, she looks like an older Rachel McAdams – and he looks like an older Ryan Gosling. I KNEW this was a dementia storyline. Their children come to visit to cement this inkling as truth. One of the kids is like: You need to go home dad, she isn’t going to remember who we are. Old Noah says: “That’s my sweetheart in there, I’m not leaving her. Your mother is my home.”
First tear shed. I think I am obsessed with this film.
Allie is at Noah’s house. There are hundreds of birds floating around them and Allie asks if they will stay here or migrate elsewhere. “They will go back to where they came from,” Noah says sagely. “They won’t stay here.” SYMBOLISM.
There’s a rumbling of thunder and rain and I suspect this is the bit I’ve been waiting for. There’s only 40 minutes left. It must be now. Sure enough, there’s some more screaming, then manic laughing. She jumps on him like a squirrel on a tree trunk and they start kissing. They go in and shag and he peels off her stockings and it’s hot. She keeps on her string of pearls because #character.
But Allie’s mum is here to break up the shagathon. OR IS SHE? She takes Allie to a construction site and points at this mega-sexy, blue-collar Bruce Springsteen type and reveals that he was the man she should have married. She also hands over all Noah’s letters. Then she’s like: “I hope you make the right choice,” I.E a working-class man in a vest with biceps who you have great sex with rather than a creepy mustache-twiddling detective.
But then, there’s another screaming row between Allie and Noah that comes out of absolutely nowhere. Noah performs a very moving speech in which he says their relationship will be tough, but he knows it will be worth it. “I want all of you forever every day,” he says, and I realize an ex-boyfriend once lifted this exact line when he told me he loved me for the first time. I try not to be too enraged by this, focusing instead on this gripping, 11th-hour narrative jeopardy.
The penny is dropping for Old Allie and she tells Old Noah that she knows the story is about them. Her memory returns and they embrace and kiss. “How much time do we have?” she asks. “The last time was about five minutes,” he responds. But she quickly loses her memory again and she demands Noah leave her alone as she doesn’t recognize him. I am in FLOODS of tears.
Old Noah opens the eponymous notebook he’s been reading from and at the front is an inscription from Allie that says: “Read this to me and I’ll come back to you.” I am a mess. This movie is traumatizing.
Allie and Noah get back together – FINALLY!
But now Old Noah is having a heart attack and I can’t bear it. He goes to find Allie, who is lying in bed and recognizes him. They hold each other. “Do you think our love can create miracles?” she says. “Do you think our love can take us away together?” Oh no. I know what this means. I don’t think I can take much more.
Sure enough, they die in each other’s arms. The piano music from the opening sequence begins. As do the shots of birds and a sunset. I am in absolute pieces.
OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS MOVIE. This movie is the perfect movie and love is wonderful and love conquers all. You should all watch it.