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20 years later, 'The Notebook' still resonates with audiences

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Twenty years ago, audiences were introduced to the star crossed and rain-soaked love story of Allie Hamilton and Noah Calhoun, the main characters in "The Notebook."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE NOTEBOOK")

RACHEL MCADAMS: (As Allie) Why didn't you write me? Why?

RYAN GOSLING: (As Noah) I wrote to you every day for a year.

MCADAMS: (As Allie) You wrote me?

GOSLING: (As Noah) Yes. It wasn't over. It still isn't over.

DETROW: "The Notebook" hit theaters in 2004, at a time when saccharine romance and comedies dominated - "The Prince & Me," "13 Going On 30," "Garden State," "50 First Dates," "A Cinderella Story." They were all released the same year. "The Notebook" earned mostly positive reviews and became an instant classic of the genre. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, relative Hollywood new-comers at the time, were catapulted into A-list stardom. Twenty years later, the film has endured, but how has it aged? Monica Castillo is a film critic and the senior film programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y., and she joins us now. Welcome.

MONICA CASTILLO: Thank you for having me.

DETROW: Let's start by rewinding to 2004 for you. What do you remember about "The Notebook" when it came out?

CASTILLO: Like you mentioned, I do remember how it was just - it seemed like an overnight success. I hadn't really heard of the book at the time, I don't know if many other people had. But the moment it hit theaters, oh, my goodness, it was a big deal. And then, of course, it had a life after the movie theaters because then it became a sort of sleepover favorite. Everyone had it on VHS or DVD, and they just kept watching it over and over and over again. And, of course, it added to cable. And, you know, we're still talking about it 20 years later.

DETROW: For our younger listeners, VHS and DVD are physical forms of a movie that you used to watch films. But you just rewatched it, I understand. What did you think watching it 20 years later? How did it seem different? How did it seem the same?

CASTILLO: I was impressed, actually, revisiting it all over again. I - we haven't seen an epic romantic drama like this in a long time. I just think a lot of romantic dramas are kind of ending up straight to streaming. They don't have the same production value or the same budget. And here, there's some really lovely shot cinematography accompanying this like, really earnest love story. And I think that was part of the appeal. I mean, it looks amazing to revisit. The performances are great, the cast, unbelievable. It's still very impressive 20 years later.

DETROW: What do you think - what's most memorable to you? Like, obviously, that scene that we heard, I feel like, is the, like, meme-type scene that people still reference all the time. Is there anything else that you think, like, it's still a part of the conversation, part of the currency 20 years later?

CASTILLO: It still isn't over is such a great line. But there's so many little sweet moments. I think, you know, as I've gotten older, I think I appreciate the scenes between James Garner and Gena Rowlands, who play the older versions of Noah and Allie in the film. Those were really tender scenes that didn't quite register when I was younger, but now, seeing them as my grandparents get older, as I'm getting older, those meant just as much to me as, you know, the really passionate moments between Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE NOTEBOOK")

GENA ROWLANDS: (As Allie Calhoun) Do you think our love can take us away together?

JAMES GARNER: (As Duke) I think our love can do anything we want it to.

DETROW: We listed off the other slew of romantic movies that came out this year. What's the best way to think about how "The Notebook" fit into the broader film landscape of the early aughts?

CASTILLO: These romantic dramas have been going on for a while, but they do come in through different phases. And I think "The Notebook" fits really nicely as a sort of like - it opened the gates to a number of other romantic dramas, whether that's a period piece like "Atonement," or the precursor to "The Notebook" was "A Walk To Remember," which was also a favorite of that time, even if it wasn't as well reviewed by the critics.

So it's one long continuum of romantic dramas. We love these stories. They connect with us. They really emotionally move us. We come sometimes to the movies to cry, and these are one of those biggest tearjerkers that we have in recent memory. So I think it is a film that has a lot of staying power.

DETROW: Yeah. But I feel like this movie is very earnest, right? And there was kind of a shift after that toward a lot more sarcastic, zany, raunchy rom-coms. Like, just a few years later, Ryan Gosling is starring in "Lars And The Real Girl," in which he has a relationship with a sex doll. Right? Do you feel like - like, do you feel like the earnestness and self-seriousness of this movie still holds or does that feel like an outlier these days?

CASTILLO: I think it still holds. I mean, I feel like that sort of - that shift towards, like, male-dominated raunch-coms was little - maybe a little bit of an answer. The critical consensus may not always appreciate what's sort of, quote-unquote, geared towards women like romance novels, like the "Bridgertons" on the TV side.

And then you have something like "The Notebook," which I also remember there was a backlash to. People made fun of it because of its earnestness back then. And I think some people still have that shorthand today. But people still buy romance novels. People still love these movies. And they still are clearly watching those TV shows. So that's not going away.

DETROW: Is there anything when you recently rewatched it that you think did not hold up well in the plot? I mean, I know there's been conversation at times about Noah's behavior toward Allie maybe not being a good look at times.

CASTILLO: Yeah. I think, for me, it still works as a sort of depiction of messy human relationships. People go about things the wrong way. People make mistakes. Maybe they wouldn't do that today or hopefully they wouldn't do that today. But, you know, that movie is a product of its time. It's a product of its moment. It was clearly trying to capture something in the zeitgeist. Whether or not it still talks to us today is up to us, the viewer.

But I think there's other parts of the movie that still resonate, and it overpowers what might not be as favorable to today's audiences. But those moments like it's still not over or, you know, again, the moments with James Garner and Gena Rowlands, like, that feels very timeless.

DETROW: What do you think as a critic about the way that dementia is portrayed on screen in this movie?

CASTILLO: It's tough. Actually, I reread Roger Ebert's review from the time in 2004, and he gave the movie three and a half stars, but acknowledged that it's very much a romantic fantasy. And part of the fantasy is that, you know, by repeating your stories, by trying to reconnect with folks who have lost access to their memory, that it can be unlocked. And that's not always the case. And that's a lot harder to deal with than actually getting to enjoy this moment of hope that you get to see in that journey. It would be terrible to lose that. So that's why we have that fantasy. That's why we tell these stories.

DETROW: It's just a real shame that Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams really faded away after this movie. We didn't hear much to them.

CASTILLO: (Laughter) Yeah, never to be heard from again. And actually, they were both in theaters last year with "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," and, of course, "Barbie."

DETROW: Yeah. That's Monica Castillo, a film critic and the senior film programmer at the Jacob Burns Film Center. Thanks so much.

CASTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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