I know I’ve discussed gender perspective in genre movies so I feel as if I’m treading too familiar of a ground but it still fascinates me that we’re watching a male protagonist in contemporary romantic movies now, like here in Nick Cassavetes‘ adaptation of The Notebook, the catalyst to Nicholas Sparks‘ factory of insufferable ubiquity. But this movie that started it all is still exemplary in the way it visualizes emotion.
Anyway, we’re seeing James Garner‘s character narrating. At least that shows that men have some semblance of feelings, as well as giving for both the female target audience and their poor boyfriends a reason to stay for the movie. Or no, it’s more complex than that, he tells it in Rachel McAdams‘ character’s point of view who, after all, is a fitting centre because she – as part of the genre’s formula, I know and I don’t care – has to choose between two men, a poor young man of her dreams (Ryan Gosling) and his richer yet equally handsome and benevolent rival (James Marsden). He has a purpose and pathos in retelling this story. Attraction or emotional attachment, as the genre suggests, are the most important aspects to ponder in her choice and with the movie’s setting – the 1960’s – and class dynamics it’s still a wonder whether she would act on those factors or repress them and stay with the suitable man her mother (Joan Allen) want to marry. Whether this would end in a fade-out happiness or tragedy.
The Notebook is the closest we’ll get to a Sirkian drama although it doesn’t go to those heightened emotions. I’m talking about the well-crafted visuals here, the clear images, sticking out against movies made that year that are either too plastic, dark or wintry. It’s a great lens to portray Garner and a woman he’s taken a liking to at an old folks home (Gena Rowlands) – he tells his younger relatives that he will never let her go after taking pains to find her. But the cinematography is more naturalistic yet glowingly lucid in depicting their younger equivalents, experiencing rural beauty – someone has probably already written some thesis about how different it is to fall in love within the country as it is in the city. The couple find themselves alone while he rows a boat further into a river where tall trees and the whitest ducks in the world would be, but there’s this Arcadian purity in their seclusion and the camera is in the right kind of distance to experience both the lovebirds’ perspective as well as enjoy their environment. Great romantic movies like this fool us into thinking these two can’t be in any bad scenario – some of us think of courtship scenes more cynically because doesn’t work with us real people – except for the ones where they have to be pulled apart. And the movie’s length didn’t bother me as long as they spent more time or possible grow together.
This is a movie of boat rides and car rides, a woman going to her loved one or her mother showing her the risks of marrying down. A movie about discovery that those little journeys produce. Although one thing strange about the mother’s revelation, that maybe the reason that her own fling ends up the way he did is because she didn’t save him. I’m not saying that women are obliged to save lower class boys and convert them into the kind of men that their parents will approve of but there is this therapeutic element to relationships, or at least the movie shows characters’ romantic bonds as to having that effect. But even though her mother and her fiancée prefer that she doesn’t run off and elope, they’re not necessarily the movie’s villains, since they’re merely looking out for her best interests.
Also, isn’t it a bit Crazy that Allen and Rowlands are in a movie together and if McAdams proves herself to be better than her present role choices – this movie, like Sparks’ oeuvre, also starting her stint as the actress in every other weepy – she could join them as part of a great actress ensemble? She can hold the screen in what could be considered a period piece without being overwhelmed and relying on the costumes and hair. It’s the latest example of a movie knowing how to sympathize with and aestheticize a woman and the people and objects around her in a way that most directors have now forgotten to do.