That’s a hyperbolic title. Upon release the critical reception for The Notebook was middling, even as the film was gobbled up en masse by a rapturous audience. Today, The Notebook is pretty firmly beloved. Obviously, the split is part of a brilliant act of demographic bullseye-ing, but we should endeavour to understand this phenomenon. Why is The Notebook such a draw? You never pump out a hit like that by accident, after all.
First, the clearest draw divined from the script: its split timeline, a narrative juggling which ultimately means that you as the audience get the best of both romantics, whilst putting a spin on proceedings to keep this by-the-books story interesting. There’s also some airs of Forest Gump-ian decades-spanning American romance.
There is the young and reckless portion, excitingly confusing and forever in jeopardy. This sort of romance is meant to uplift and to make you feel rather than life placing you between a rock and a hard place, that you’ll have nothing but the trouble of how to run towards a dream life. All the men in our heroine’s life are wonderful and it is but her choice of lifestyle and measurement of her passion that decides the day. Of course, it is satisfying when she errs on the side of her spirited romance, rather than the perfect gentlemen.
That fact hinges on the chemistry of the leads, which is and had to be a tensely powerful one. Behind the scenes we hear a lot about the leads’ (Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) early on-set scuffles. The pair really didn’t get along, so much so that Gosling wanted to have McAdams replaced, but after an intervention by the director and a break in filming, things got back on track and they got along much better. So much so that they ended up dating for some time thereafter. That kind of chemistry can’t be bottled. This is the portion of movie magic that you just can’t write.
However, within the purview of the script is the second narrative thread, which involves the caring, committed love of perfect old age. We hereby have assurances that the love story will resolve happily. There’s no figuring it out, no fighting, just the ideal happily ever after, tinged with the tragic obstacle of dementia, taking away the memories of a life made up utterly of love-worn reminiscences. Somehow tension sustains itself in both timelines, despite one undermining the other. The love is unrequited, but purely for star-crossed reasons, which is always going to be mildly more comforting than even an overly perfect ending.
And there you have the piece de resistance, The Notebook is a tearjerker to boot. Now the movie’s tied itself to the audience’s heart as well and thereby completed its precision assault on the sensibilities of the sentimental. Things were kept wholesome enough to scrape into a PG-13 classification, and so the movie reached the swaths of teen girls who these sorts of films are precisely tailored to. Most important of all: wherever possible, nab something off Nicolas Sparks.
That’s how you romance the audience.