Flashback Film Friends is a series in which a Jezebel staffer watches a movie she or he has seen a million times, with a staffer who has never seen it once. Then they discuss—just like friends.
Like pastel Uggs and inch-thick highlights, I spent the better part of 2004 avoiding all things Rachel McAdams. She hadn’t done anything to me, personally, at least as far as I knew. It was more about what she represented and who she made me think of. My introduction to her came by way of Regina George, her queen bee character in Mean Girls. None of the Stephs or MacKenzies or Allies or Amys I knew back in high school were that outright cruel, but there was a kind of casual, passive cruelty that I felt from those girls, an unclear drawing of boundaries that would let me in during pre-calc only to push me away after class. These girls loved Mean Girls, and they really loved The Notebook, the Nicholas Sparks teen romance du jour starring McAdams and Ryan Gosling.
Defining myself in opposition to them, I didn’t want to see Mean Girls, and I really didn’t want to see The Notebook. I relented on the former after a couple months, but on the latter front I held my ground. Fuck The Notebook! Fuck these girls! I’d rather rewatch my worn-down Hedwig and the Angry Inch DVD anyway. I finally watched The Notebook a year later in the summer of 2005. I was in the basement of the best friend of a boy I’d met on MySpace. It was clearly not a date, yet I remained convinced it might be, even after he invited his ex over to hang out. I don’t remember a lot from that August afternoon, though what I do remember, I remember fondly: lo-res Wonder Showzen clips, an online Peaches soundboard (press f for “FUCK THE PAIN AWAYEE,” d for “shake yer dix shake yer dix,” p for “UNGHH!!”), and the ex’s androgynous proto-scene kid style that made me reevaluate my entire closet.
Someone suggested we watch a movie, then someone suggested The Notebook. I wanted this boy to like me, so I didn’t put up a fight, and by the end of the movie, I was unabashedly tearing up. Despite my best intentions, I let Rachel McAdams into my heart. She and her stupid fucking ‘monesploitative movie had finally gotten to me, and I had no regrets.
The Notebook came up a few weeks ago in Jezebel’s Slack. We were talking about how we all want to fuck Mr. Met, as we so often do, when staff writer Frida Garza compared the New York Mets mascot to Shane West in A Walk to Remember. That set off staff writer Kelly Faircloth, our resident Nicholas Sparks anti-Stan, whose anti-Sparks remarks reminded senior editor Katie McDonough of “the craziest sex outtake” she remembers seeing when she watched The Notebook DVD’s bonus features in her youth. Fellow staff writer Ashley Reese chimed in to admit that she’d never actually seen The Notebook. “I just know they kiss in the rain,” she said, citing the Tumblr gif sets she knew so well. I hadn’t seen it since that fateful August afternoon in 2005, so we decided to watch it together. It was her first time watching The Notebook and my first time crying in the Jezebel office. (Apologies to the guy who walked in on us just as I was wiping away mascara and screaming, “WHAT THE FUCK I HATE THIS!”) We discuss the film and its emotionally manipulative glory below.
HARRON: When we were talking about The Notebook on Slack, Kelly said that the movie “will make you cry and you will be mad that you are crying because Nicholas Sparks is an emotionally manipulative nerd.” Do you feel like this accurately sums up your first Notebook watching experience?
ASHLEY: Absolutely. I mean, I didn’t try not to cry or anything. I love crying while watching, er, A Thing. And it’s pretty easy for me to start the waterworks. Like I told you earlier, I have been known to cry during episodes of Cold Case on CBS, so I’m very vulnerable to tearing up when the emotional music is timed just right and there’s some sappy shit going down. But what surprised me the most is that it wasn’t really Ryan or Rachel’s ye olde romance that turned on the waterworks; it was when they were OLD AS FUCK.
HARRON: Oh my god, totally. It was like Ryan and Rachel were setting me up, and then their older counterparts [played by James Garner and Gena Rowlands] knocked me the fuck down. Was it the old people’s acting or something about old people that did it for you?
ASHLEY: It was the old people element, really. Maybe I’m really sensitive because I have a great aunt who is suffering from dementia right now and has been for ages and also lives in a nursing home…but I think there’s something about love that stands the test of time that will just kick me in the fucking gut every time. I loved the actor who played old-Ryan Gosling, though. Or Noah or whatever. I don’t know, the whole time I watched I was calling Noah “Ryan” and Allie “Regina George”…but anyway. When the man who played old-Noah started crying when Allie was freaking out…bye!
HARRON: Yeah, I don’t know what it was, maybe old-Noah saying stuff about how he’d always be with her no matter how hard things got that destroyed me? It’s absolutely noooot the kind of relationships I’m modeling in real life, but something about it just got to me and made me go “ughhhhh…that’s beautiful.” I think I had a hard time getting too emotionally wrapped up in young-Noah and Allie’s drama because it kind of all hinges on her deciding whether or not she’s gonna give up her class standing and comfortable rich girl world to be with someone she loves. I know it’s not the same thing, but it reminded me of a lot of the dudes I’ve been with who aren’t willing to make any sacrifices to be with me beyond like mayyyybe being seen together at a bar, at the most. Like, I get it! It would probably be kinda difficult to incorporate me into their lives! But I incorporate me into my life every day, and I’m fine. Anyway, it was a little hard to have tooooo too too much sympathy for someone struggling over whether or not she wanted to do that for her lover. Not to be like “The Notebook is queer” lol, but it was kind of a coming out story? That’s probably why it didn’t totally grab me. Coming out stories are boring!
ASHLEY: I would totally read your “The Notebook is queer” take, to be honest. Yeah, I have mixed feelings about young-Noah and Allie. I didn’t think that Noah being so thirsty about getting a date with Allie was cute, especially when he HUNG ON A FERRIS WHEEL in an attempt to get a date with her. And I also wasn’t crazy about how much Allie hit Noah? I’m like, sis, you need to fucking relax. I can get behind a bickering couple—I love a bickering couple dynamic—but the hitting was a lot. And yet, I can see a lot of other things about their relationship being very much “goals.” I mean, that montage of them, like, riding bikes together, eating ice cream together, and being goofy at the beach together while some ridiculous big band horns went off in the background? I absolutely see how even my emo-adjacent 14-year-old self would have thought it was weirdly aspirational. Or maybe I just thought Ryan Gosling was charming. I don’t know, he was def a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.
HARRON: He totally was. Like, when he was like, “Lie in the street with me”…so rahn-dahm. Was there any particular reason why 14-year-old emo-adjacent you didn’t see it when it came out? Or just, like, it didn’t happen?
ASHLEY: I was just bad at seeing movies, and this remains a fact to this day. I mean, I also didn’t see Mean Girls until a full year or so after it came out. My mom brought it home on DVD because she thought it looked funny. Yes, my mom introduced me to Mean Girls. Wild. But I remember it being a pop culture phenomenon pretty quickly. And speaking of The Notebook memes, when the “What do you want” scene happened, I almost busted out laughing because I remember it as a meme that was like, “when your GF can’t decide what she wants to eat.
HARRON: AHAAHAHHHHHAHAA, holy shit.
ASHLEY: It me.
HARRON: Me @ me.
ASHLEY: My BF @ me.
HARRON: It’s so weird how a movie you’ve never seen will feel so familiar because you’ve seen all these gifs and memes from it for years—reminds me of how I know all these Citizen Kane and Godfather references from just watching The Simpsons when I was little.
ASHLEY: Exactly. Like, I knew about the “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” bit, which was way less interesting than I thought it would be. And I knew about the infamous open-mouth kiss in the rain. TY, GIFS.
HARRON: That kiss! Then he just like picks her up and carries her half-naked up the stairs with his pants around his ankles. Titties out. Back muscles rippling.
ASHLEY: OMG. I was shook.
ASHLEY: I didn’t think that the sex scene would be that intense. I mean, it was by no means graphic, but it was intense. It was like, “They’re gonna finally fuck in the house they were supposed to fuck in like seven years ago!” Wild! Though, side note, I actually really loved Allie’s neurotic ass when they were initially going to have sex earlier in the movie, back when she was 17. Her nervousness was very realistic, I think. The constant babbling and uncertainty…and Noah just being, like, very patient but obviously preferring if she would just shut up so he can put his penis inside of her and have what would have likely been very short and not that great teen sex.
HARRON: “Nothing Compares 2 U” but about seven years of blue-ballin’ then finally getting to fuck. You’re right. It was pretty cute and realistically young man-y, right down to him not having a bed frame.
ASHLEY: LOL, yes. He just put like some drapes on the floor and was like, “Here is where we fuc.”
HARRON: I’m in love.
ASHLEY: “I made it nice 4 u.” But honestly, Ryan Gosling can lay out a mound of bubble wrap on the floor and I would be like “Yes pls.”
HARRON: Yes. Agreed. I didn’t get it in 2004, but I finally get Ryan Gosling.
ASHLEY: Same! It took me a while.
HARRON: Though with all that buildup, I thought it was funny how when he finally threw her on the bed, back first, feet up, the actual fucking only lasted like 10 seconds.
ASHLEY: Now I’m Team Goose.
HARRON: Oh my god, remember the geese on the pond????
ASHLEY: THE FUCKING GEESE. THAT WAS TOO MANY GEESE. WHAT THE FUCK. AND THEY WERE FEEDING THEM? Look, I’m just a dumb city girl, I only go out in nature a few times a year. But I know that geese are vicious. I will not be feeding them anytime soon.
HARRON: Never! I made that mistake once when I was 3. Never again! Do you think The Notebook holds up? Do you think The Teens Today would care about it?
ASHLEY: The Notebook is pretty predictable and cliché, period. I think its memeification would make it less of a treat for teens now. But teens are also less jaded than we (and they) think they are, so I can still see this having some appeal if it came out today. Hot people, vintage clothes, love story tears, gotta love it. Oh, and who can resist the letter a day thing? I feel like in a world where “talking” has largely replaced the concept of dating, teens today feel like their love lives are so devoid of actual romance, that something as simple as the letter subplot would really do it for them. Also, when the mom gave Allie all those letters from Noah that she was hiding for YEARS. Okay, I felt dat shit. I also got sad when Allie’s tight ass mama was reminiscing over the working class dude who worked at the lumber yard from way back when. LOL, she was like “Daughter, I was almost married to A Poor that I was madly in love with, but my dad said no. Just like how your father and I said no to you being with your Poor, Ryan Gosling. I guess I’m sorry about that. Follow your heart, honey. Anyway, here’s every single letter your Poor wrote to you seven years ago.” I was like, this is fucked up, but also I’m crying.
HARRON: “This is fucked up, but also I’m crying.” Big mood! I couldn’t have summed up The Notebook any better myself.