Welcome to The Romantic Film Guru, the column that discusses what are the best, worst, overrated and under appreciated films with romance elements that have been made.
What this means is the reviews and Tier structure is solely based when looking at in the angle of someone who likes to watch romantic films. Some great films can have terrible romantic subplots, making it a bad movie for romance lovers. Others can be ok or even bad films that actually has a good romantic side to it.
There are tons of romantic films that The Wiz has seen and is dying to show you some of the best around…and of course, some of them that haven’t held together since it’s first release.
I knew I had to…
At some point, whether in the next post or many others after, I was going to have to cover this movie. This movie, which has become a milestone romance film since it’s release in 2004, made instant stars out of its younger leads.
It also instantly rose the sales up of the author who wrote the book based on the movie, as well as the rest of his catalogue of films that pretty much hold by the same formula.
It has also become one of my most despised movies. I saw the movie back in 2004, thought it was okay. When it started becoming huge, I just didn’t get it. Then I saw it again in 2008: liked it even less then.
Then, through the years of watching all sorts of romantic films that clearly never get enough attention (Blue is the Warmest Color, Sideways, Her, Before Sunset), all I kept hearing from anyone who liked romantic films is “Oh, but nothing beats Noah and Allie!”
The story of a rich, candy ass brat and what might possibly be a brain damaged bumpkin who has sociopath like symptoms undying love for each other is not better than even some of the most bland of romantic movies.
OK, I jumped the gun on my opening. Of course, you know I’m talking about The Notebook, Nick Cassavettes adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel where I watch a summer romance turn into what typical summer romances turn into, without the slut shaming and the crack at how small my genitals are.
So, yes, if I am doing this blog and I’m doing this special section of best romances in film, I have to include The Notebook.
Now, I will admit my vitriol is more towards the reaction of the film than the film itself. Both times, I didn’t think they were horrible, but it just wasn’t a romance I didn’t buy.
So, how did I think of it…a third time.
Likes and Dislikes
The true pay-off in the film is in the framework (i.e. The Old people talking), and while the pay-off is well done, the body has got some problems.
Features one of the best performances by James Garner
Features one pretty bad performance by Ryan Gosling. Unless you like Gosling…then, I don’t know what to tell you.
The plot is rather thoroughfare: you know what’s going to happen before the end really comes to reveal itself
The movie revolves around Duke (James Garner), an old man at a nursing home who reads romantic stories to an old woman with dementia (Gena Rowlands). The romantic story he reads is about Alley (Rachel McAdams), a pretty girl from a rich family, and Noah (Ryan Gosling), a love-lorn country boy. Throughout a summer, they fall in love and then are taken apart from each other.
If I’m gonna start on a positive note with this movie, it’s this: The Notebook hasn’t gotten worse in over ten years.
Most times, romance films are more a product of the time it’s created than most big budget action films. In a way, The Notebook feels timeless: it’s setting in Pre-WWII and an indescriptive present makes the film seem like it’s made for an audience right now then for just teens in the early aughts.
It’s also shot very intimately, at least when it comes to the main romance. Noah and Allie are shot in a much more grounded, more subtle way than when they are separated, which shows great directing by Cassavettes when making the romance of the film that much more palpable.
The females in the movie are also very good, with McAdams giving a performance that feels somewhat underrated. She carries the young romance plot in the film with her expressive and somewhat deep performance. Gena Rowlands is good, but her role is really very limiting for her.
The outstanding performance, which seems to only get better each time I watch the film, is James Garner. His performance as Duke is both heartbreaking and emotionally deep. He brings what feels like a lifetime lived in love in this movie. He, seriously, has one of the best performances in the past 20 years. Garner is worth watching this movie.
So, here comes the problem: Ryan Gosling. The character of Noah is supposed to be a little bit off, little bit charming, little bit country, but mostly homely. The problem is that Noah is portrayed more off than anything else. At no point does it feel like a girl who has a good head on her shoulders would fall in love with someone this out-there.
This story’s script, while not that deep, does a decent job of showing that Noah is all dependable, all lovable and little bit crazy. Gosling just turns on more crazy than anything else. His distinct look in a few scenes, such as when they are about to lose their virginity together or when he asks her out on a date, is more over-the-top than cinematically charming.
This makes the overall romance, and the overall film, suffer greatly because you are supposed to feel bad for this poor guy who just got royally screwed in life until Allie comes back. At no point do you feel this way: The most I get from Gosling as Noah is that he’s stalker-ish, loves this girl way too hard and kind of has a mental problem.
In fact, Gosling literally has one Zealander look throughout the entire film. It’s empty, beady and kind of disturbing in a way. Not disturbing in a “make you sick to your stomach way,” but more of a “I kinda feel uncomfortable watching his face” sort of way.
You may find this too harsh of a criticism or too specific, but not being able to actually identify and root for the male romantic lead is a big problem for a romantic film. Ryan Gosling literally turns what might be a great or all-time great movie into a passable movie just by doing whatever it is he’s doing.
So that makes the framework of the entire film, the one with Duke and the old lady, being the true highlight of the movie. That’s about 30 – 45 minutes of a two hour film being great. The rest is held up as much as a young McAdams can, but she can’t carry the dead weight that is Ryan Gosling in this film.
Tier 1 – Best Romance in Films
Casablanca, It Happened One Night, Sense and Sensibility, Before Sunset, The American President, Chasing Amy, Shakespeare in Love, Roman Holiday
Tier 2 – Great Romance in Films
Before Sunrise, Notting Hill, Sideways, Her, Moulin Rouge, Jerry Maguire, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Punch-Drunk Love, Annie Hall, Say Anything…, Kissing Jessica Stein
Tier 3 – Decent Romance in Films
As Good As It Gets, Midnight in Paris, Secretary, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, There’s Something About Mary, About Time, Hitch, High Fidelity, The 40 Year Old Virgin, (500) Days of Summer, Walk the Line, Brokeback Mountain, The Notebook
Tier 4 – Not good Romance in Films
Love Actually, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Don Jon, Jersey Girl, My Best Friend’s Wedding
Tier 5 – Just Horrible Romance in Films
The Room, Gigli, Never Been Kissed, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mamma Mia!
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Comments always appreciated! Thank you for reading!
Romantic Film Guru #4