Inside the Mind of an Adult Woman Watching ‘The Notebook’ for the First Time
Photo by Melissa Moseley via New Line Cinema

I am not a woman who is afraid of an obvious choice. I shamelessly enjoy peonies, Paris and Audrey Hepburn movie posters. So it has always been a great riddle that I have somehow managed to reach the age of 28 without watching The Notebook, the 2004 seminal romantic film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams that is loved by millennial women the world over.

All I know before I go in is that there’s a passionate kiss in the rain and it’s set in the 1940s or 1950s, judging by the A-line skirts and Victory Rolls I’ve seen in stills posted on Instagram from time to time. I imagine that – like all populist love stories since Erich Segal’s – there’s also some sort of obligatory line about affairs of the heart that’s self-explanatory and now iconic, like: “love is happiness.”

The film opens with a few shots of the sunset and some birds. This is no doubt symbolic. An elegant old lady looks out of a window wistfully. I assume this is an elderly version of one of the younger lead actresses, because there’s no way Hollywood would open a film with a woman over 40 unless she is solely a tear-jerking, heart-string-pulling vehicle for flashbacks.

Enter flashback number one. We are introduced to Allie (McAdams) and Noah (Gosling), who meet for the first time at a fairground. The decade is unclear; Noah’s wearing a newsboy cap that makes him look like an extra in Oliver! He falls in love with Allie instantly despite knowing nothing about her because we’re in well-trodden rom-com territory where people declare their love for each other based upon physical appearance alone. But, quel dommage, she’s not interested. To win her over, he jumps onto a moving ferris wheel and asks her to go out with him. She says no and he hangs off the bar until she finally agrees. A thousand impressionable young male viewers are inspired to become stalkers. This movie is bullshit.

But Noah, still wearing that hat, woos her at a movie double date. He tries some sophisticated reverse psychology by telling her that her problem is that she doesn’t do what she wants. She protests, but he says she can only prove otherwise by lying in the middle of the road. They nearly die and she finds this hilarious. Here begins the period of the movie I like to call Allie’s Laughing and Screaming About Nothing phase.

A Billie Holiday track comes on and there’s a wide shot of some lovely dancing. Oh god, this is quite charming isn’t it? I’m quite charmed by this movie.

Next up, a falling-in-love montage. I continue to be charmed. They eat ice cream, there’s more screaming and laughing about nothing. They go to the beach and she’s all: “TELL ME I’M A BIRD TELL ME I’M A BIRD!” for no reason, no doubt setting up a metaphor that will be overextended later.

The old man voiceover tells me that Noah didn’t have two pennies to rub together, whereas Allie had everything. I understand the horrid newsboy cap is supposed to denote their differing socio-economic backgrounds. He teaches her country things like driving and swimming.

We are introduced to Allie’s parents, who appear to be rich, judgemental disciplinarians. Her father looks like a 1920s detective with a twiddly mustache and a cigar. They meet Noah and disapprove of him. Allie’s imperious mother drops the bomb that Allie is going to college in faraway New York. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know where this movie is set.

There’s more hysterical, giddy screaming and a lot of jumping in rivers. I’m worried Allie’s going to contract Weil’s disease at this rate.

They go to an abandoned house that Noah plans to buy one day. Allie says she’d like to live there with him. She plays an out-of-tune piano seductively and they decide to have sex. God, Ryan Gosling’s got a great body. Is this why everyone does those “Hey Girl” memes about him? Maybe he’s quite attractive? I think he is, you know.

They don’t get to consummate their relationship because Allie’s 1920s detective dad, true to form, has sent out a search party for her. She gets back to her parents’ house and they are incandescent with rage because their perfect daughter wants to be with a lowly construction worker.

I look away for a few moments to check my eBay app for an Equipment silk blouse in my size, and when I look back up, I’ve obviously missed something, because Allie is screaming and hitting Noah and is saying “I HATE YOU, GET OUT, WAIT WE’RE NOT BREAKING UP ARE WE??” This girl is a RIOT!

Back to the old couple from the beginning. I think they might be an old Allie and an old Noah. I think Noah is trying to remind her of her old life. Is this a dementia storyline?

Years have passed and Allie’s evil mother has been hiding Noah’s letters. I can’t bear it. Allie is in love with a new, very sexy guy named Lon. He’s rich, so her parents love him. Who is this actor? He’s attractive in a very chiseled, essence-of-man way. He’d make a great Superman. I’m going to go on his Wikipedia. Oh my god, he already played Superman! I should be a casting director.

I’m paying attention again and Allie and Superman are engaged. Meanwhile, Noah’s finally purchased his dream bachelor pad. Noah sees Allie in town and watches her and Lon through a restaurant window, realizing she’s engaged because she waves her hand around to flash the ring in a way that furthers the plot seamlessly.

True to form, Allie is in peak-scream while trying on a wedding dress. That is, until she sees a photo of Noah and his newly renovated house in the paper. She faints.

“This is a good story, I think I’ve heard it before,” says the old lady in the old people’s home. Now I think about it, she looks like an older Rachel McAdams – and he looks like an older Ryan Gosling. I KNEW this was a dementia storyline. Their children come to visit to cement this inkling as truth. One of the kids is like: You need to go home dad, she isn’t going to remember who we are. Old Noah says: “That’s my sweetheart in there, I’m not leaving her. Your mother is my home.”

First tear shed. I think I am obsessed with this film.

Allie is at Noah’s house. There are hundreds of birds floating around them and Allie asks if they will stay here or migrate elsewhere. “They will go back to where they came from,” Noah says sagely. “They won’t stay here.” SYMBOLISM.

There’s a rumbling of thunder and rain and I suspect this is the bit I’ve been waiting for. There’s only 40 minutes left. It must be now. Sure enough, there’s some more screaming, then manic laughing. She jumps on him like a squirrel on a tree trunk and they start kissing. They go in and shag and he peels off her stockings and it’s hot. She keeps on her string of pearls because #character.

But Allie’s mum is here to break up the shagathon. OR IS SHE? She takes Allie to a construction site and points at this mega-sexy, blue-collar Bruce Springsteen type and reveals that he was the man she should have married. She also hands over all Noah’s letters. Then she’s like: “I hope you make the right choice,” I.E a working-class man in a vest with biceps who you have great sex with rather than a creepy mustache-twiddling detective.

But then, there’s another screaming row between Allie and Noah that comes out of absolutely nowhere. Noah performs a very moving speech in which he says their relationship will be tough, but he knows it will be worth it. “I want all of you forever every day,” he says, and I realize an ex-boyfriend once lifted this exact line when he told me he loved me for the first time. I try not to be too enraged by this, focusing instead on this gripping, 11th-hour narrative jeopardy.

The penny is dropping for Old Allie and she tells Old Noah that she knows the story is about them. Her memory returns and they embrace and kiss. “How much time do we have?” she asks. “The last time was about five minutes,” he responds. But she quickly loses her memory again and she demands Noah leave her alone as she doesn’t recognize him. I am in FLOODS of tears.

Old Noah opens the eponymous notebook he’s been reading from and at the front is an inscription from Allie that says: “Read this to me and I’ll come back to you.” I am a mess. This movie is traumatizing.

Allie and Noah get back together – FINALLY!

But now Old Noah is having a heart attack and I can’t bear it. He goes to find Allie, who is lying in bed and recognizes him. They hold each other. “Do you think our love can create miracles?” she says. “Do you think our love can take us away together?” Oh no. I know what this means. I don’t think I can take much more.

Sure enough, they die in each other’s arms. The piano music from the opening sequence begins. As do the shots of birds and a sunset. I am in absolute pieces.

OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS MOVIE. This movie is the perfect movie and love is wonderful and love conquers all. You should all watch it.

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  • Julie May

    Watch it everytime it’s on.

  • I lol’d when you realized an ex gave you that line. Too funny.

    • Sabletoothtigre

      An ex did a similar thing to me but with a Radiolab episode. But while he was breaking up with me. Plagiarizing a Radiolab episode.

      • WHAT!!! Well, at least he’s unoriginal and now you don’t have to bother with all that nonsense!

  • KK

    “True to form, Allie is in peak-scream while trying on a wedding dress.” LOLOLOL
    I always stop watching this movie before the end/death. I do the same thing with Moulin Rouge. I refuse to accept the sad parts. Make your own happy ending, y’all!!

    • traces of light

      I used to be obsessed with Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet when I was 12, but 70% of the time I would only watch it up to right after the wedding scene, haha!

      • just_parsley

        I can’t watch that movie anymore at all. Some kid in Oregon killed his parents and couple of kids at his school and when the police video recording was released of them entering the home after he was arrested, that soundtrack was playing in the background. It was soooo creepy it ruined the movie for me. 🙁 It’s a great movie though — highly stylized, very cool.

  • I actually never watched it too – but thank you for providing a whole plot review of it. I think I’d hate it LOL.

    Charmaine Ng
    Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  • Olivia

    Is it weird that I teared up reading this recap EVEN THOUGH I’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE ALREADY AND I KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?

    • Rose Winters

      HAHAH SAME I am crying and laughing and now all I want to do is rewatch it

      • Kira Kwan

        Ugh, ME TOO! Not weird at all.

    • Marie Jacobson


  • Oh my god your review is so hilarious. I giggled so much when reading this. Literally the way you reacted is the way I react when I watch this film. I rewatched it recently with a couple of girlfriends and in the end we were all crying our eyes out and then we would stop, look at each other, and then go back to sobbing and crying uncontrollably and laughing in-between. This film leaves you a bloody mess in end. #ryanwrecksus

  • Bo

    I can NOT like this movie in any way. I’ve worked in aged care for most of my adult life and the depiction it gives of dementia, the way it’s used as some gripping plot device, and the way Noah reads her the life story over and over again despite her inability to remember anything for a few minutes is actually kind of incredibly cruel. Dementia is an incurable wasting disease and memory is but one of the areas of the brain it affects; the accepted approach is to not *force* a person living with dementia to try to remember large swathes of their past if it has drifted away from them because it is 1) beyond their capability for any extensive period of time 2) incredibly difficult for them and 3) has no lasting beneficial effect. If you want to watch a good movie about the reality of dementia, look for something like Still Alice or the documentary Alive Inside, because this film is BS.

  • Natty

    Omg super embarrassed to admit I’ve never noticed the bird metaphor. HAHAHA AND ITS SO OBVIOUS

  • Amber Fitzner

    My Dad got diagnosed with Alzheimers and Dementia when I was 19 and I spent my whole young adult life caring for him. The disease is totally misrepresented in this movie. I do not think there was any research done about the disease during the writing process. Dude if I had a dollar for every time someone tried to get me to watch it as some sort of weird therapy, I would probably have $30. THAT SAID……. Its just a movie! You cannot deny how entertaining it is. The costumes! The sex scene! The drama! The sex scene! This totally cracked me up.

  • Marisa Brenizer

    Actually, James Marsden didn’t play Superman! He was in Superman Returns, but played Lois’s “second choice”.

    …Dang. James Marsden has fallen victim to typecasting, hasn’t he?

    (P.S. He did play a superhero, though – he was Cyclops in X-Men.)

    • Sabletoothtigre

      Cyclops was also kind of second-hand to Logan with Jean Grey tho, HEY-O

      • Marisa Brenizer

        That’s exactly what my boyfriend said! Yeah, the poor guy can’t catch a break. 😉

        • At least he’s been ‘The One’ once – the movie version of another Nicholas Sparks book – Best of Me

        • He got Liz Lemon in 30Rock, so in my mind he is clearly immortal and moved on from Allie to the superior and much funnier choice.

    • yeah i was thinking the same exact thing

  • if you guys are going to use french expressions to sound fancy at least spell them right! it’s Quel Dommage not Quelle Dommage.

    • Izzy

      Dolly is English, and we often use French phrases in an ironic way, not to try and sound fancy (though you’re right about the spelling!)

      • cantdontstop

        Americans also do this 😉

  • Basil

    I’ve never watched this either, but was tearing up by the end of the review #pregnancyhormones
    Also – Ryan looks like a toddler in this! He was so young!

  • Helen

    I shouldn’t have read this whilst menstruating. I am a mess

  • gracesface

    I think I’ve seen this all the way through twice? I could care less about the dementia piece (sorry), their young-and-in-love story is aces and Ryan Gosling is SEXY AS HELL. I also loved him in Half Nelson, another movie he did in the early aughts (well, 2007 or 2008). G-damn.

    Oh and Gabe Delahaye did an equally awesome review of this that is also hilarious. http://www.stereogum.com/1771923/the_hunt_for_the_worst_movie_o_83/vg-loc/videogum/

  • i loved the fact that they were together irl, remember the mtv kiss? ohhhh

  • Rosie

    You didn’t mention that the nursing home they are in looks just like the house he re-built? its like he created it, and made it into whatever she needed. I may be remembering it wrong, it’s been a while since I saw it – right I’m re-watching it tonight.

    • wait, I always thought it was the same house? The way she looks out over the lake…

  • I watched it last night and laughed out loud when I saw the headline on IG stories this morning. Notes:
    – I love how we have all shared all the same feels about this movie, it was so fun to read a first-timer’s recount – it was like a flashback!
    – LOL at your ex boyfriend lifting lines
    – The symbolism on the laaaaaaake!!!
    – James Marsden is the best. I loved him in this and as Corny Collins in hairspray.
    – He’s in another Nicholas Sparks book/movie as the lead: The Best of Me. Loved it too – crazy similar to the Notebook with very different characters and a couple of key plot differences. So many feels.

    • Laura

      Loooove him in Enchanted as the prince. So dreamy in the most narcissistic, best way possible.

  • ch4rt

    I saw this movie when it came out in theaters (I was in high school) and completely missed that they died at the end. I couldn’t understand why my movie-companion thought it was so tragic. Years later re-watched it and I was like “oh and then they cuddle and some medical thingies go off so a nurse comes to check it [END SCENE]” and it had to be explained to me that they died. I think this could have been clearer…

  • Well, I’m crying again. God, this movie. Watched it for the first time at a 10th grade sleepover. Everyone else fell asleep and I was left sobbing on the floor in the dark.

  • Blythe

    The first time I ever watched The Notebook was with 8 or so girls from my high school show choir. It’s getting close to the end of the movie and we’re all crowded around the TV in the living room crying – loudly I might add – when my dad comes down to stairs to grab something out of the fridge. We all turn around to see who it is and the look on his face was hilarious, but also completely terrified. He still talks about coming down the stairs to a room full of sobbing teenager girls and being completely dumbfounded.

  • Catherine Schepp

    “God, Ryan Gosling’s got a great body. Is this why everyone does those “Hey Girl” memes about him? Maybe he’s quite attractive? I think he is, you know.” HAHAHAHA loved this article.

  • kforkarli

    I loved this post! I’m so glad you liked it. I remember watching this and realising it was old Allie and Old Noah and sobbing. I was still crying on the car ride home.

  • Anna B.

    As a High Low listener it’s great to see Dolly’s writing on here – so funny! Will there be more?

  • Emily

    this is probably mega cynical but I used to love this film, and now I can’t watch it! I love love loved it, but now I just think it gives massively unrealistic expectations of love? I’m not a cynic, I LOVE films like this, like disney, like everything! But I cant help but wonder *CARRIE VOICE*, if I hadn’t be exposed to these at such a young age, would my views of love be more realistic? GOD I SOUND CYNICAL i’m not explaining myself well here!!

    anyone else feel the same?? (in a more eloquent way??)

    • Alexandra Queiroz

      I feel exactly the same

      • Emily

        So glad I’m not the only one

  • Harriet Corns

    Idek how many times I’ve seen this film but lo and behold im crying again just at the recap ffs im a state

  • OH MY GOD the movie is perfect, and if you’re wondering if i’m going to re-watch it now, you’re damn right!

  • Pandora Sykes

    There’s a reason I work with this woman every day and this reason IS IT. Dolly, I love this piece so, SO much.

  • Hannah

    The film was made in NC and the crazier part is it’s Nicholas sparks’ wife’s grandparents story!! He came and spoke at UNCW and I was in tears just listening to the story!

  • SPhil

    As someone who hates the Notebook, allow me to introduce this delightful counterpoint:


  • shelley

    I saw this movie for the first time when it first came out in theaters with my dad and we both cried. 🙂