The year is 2004. Bennifer has called it quits, Friends is airing its last season, and Facebook has just launched. It’s also the year millennials will remember well for bringing one of our favorite romances of all time to the big screen — The Notebook. The movie that launched the careers of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams was a massive hit, leading to Hollywood producing just about every title in the Nicholas Sparks library. As for my millennial self, this movie was a life-changing experience. What even was love if not shouting “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird!” at your significant other?! This was the movie at middle school sleepovers, a tearjerker that shared the everlasting love of Allie and Noah.
And so, fellow millennials, it’s with great despair that I tell you I have terrible news. I recently rewatched The Notebook as a 31-year-old with far more life experience, and it is… not good. In fact, what I once viewed as an epic love story was borderline toxic.
Now, don’t get me wrong — the chemistry and acting of Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are next level. In fact, I think the duo (along with the pair playing their older counterparts, James Garner and Gena Rowlands) is the major reason it’s easy to miss some of the more problematic parts of the story.
The meet-cute is a major red flag.
The meet-cute in this movie is far from cute. Noah is attracted to Allie, leading him to ask her out while she’s on a date at the fair. The smart girl says no, as you should if any random stranger approaches you while on a date and demands you go out with them.
However, Noah takes this an uncomfortable step further by dangling himself off a Ferris wheel, threatening to let himself fall to an almost certain death until Allie agrees to go out with him. Listen, I would have had trouble saying no to a date with 2004-era Ryan Gosling, too (even more trouble with 2023-era Gosling). However, the character’s insistence on not taking several no’s for an answer is a clear red flag — and an immediately cringey start to the pair’s romance. Noah’s line, “When I see something that I like, well, I go crazy for it,” encapsulates his character in a way that makes him far more stalker-y than romantic.
This is not a healthy relationship.
Allie and Noah start their romance as teens, so a lot of their early ups and downs can be explained away by being young, hormonal, and experiencing their first love together. That being said, by the time these two reconnect, they are old enough that they should know this is not a healthy relationship.
The two argue about… everything. In fact, they hold up their fighting as a sign of their true love, because what is constant arguing if not passion? But that’s simply not true. Beneath their constant bickering, I started to wonder: Do these two actually have anything in common?!
Her alternate choice is… actually the better one.
In any classic romance, you’ll have an alternate suitor who fights for the lead’s affection. However, there are almost always apparent flaws that make it clear they’re the wrong choice. In The Notebook, though, Allie’s alternate pick of James Marsden’s Lon is — arguably — the better choice?!
Aside from being packaged with Marsden’s face, Lon also seems kind and is far more respectful of boundaries. The biggest factor against him seems to be that her parents approve of him because he’s rich. Now, if he doesn’t make Allie happy, he’s obviously a no-go. But it’s hard to really root for the main duo in a romance when there’s a third person who seems like the far less angry and argumentative choice.
I have to confess; one part of the movie still works: the older versions of Allie and Noah. I’ll fully admit that, despite cringing throughout most of my rewatch, watching Noah re-tell their romance to a dementia-stricken Allie still got me (I’m only human). But I still finished watching and was left with one overwhelming thought — the story of The Notebook is a toxic romance hidden beneath fantastic acting.