Even 10 years later, I still can't watch The Notebook without crying. Yeah, I know, this doesn't make me any different from the mob of women who were teen girls back in 2004. But for me at least, it has nothing to do with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
You know who really gets me? Like, every time without fail? James Garner's performance as old Noah Calhoun, taking gentle care of the love of his life, Allie. That man gets me. Every. Damn. Time. By the time the credits are rolling, its waterworks all over the place.
That's why I was particularly heartbroken to hear that the legendary actor passed away this weekend. Sure, he was great as the brawny cowboy in Murphy's Romance. He was practically iconic as Bret Maverick in the '50s western Maverick and the tough ex-con Jim Rockford in the 1970s series The Rockford Files. He appeared in over 50 titles and in most of them, he fit the bill for the folksy, hardened hero. In his heyday, he was a man crush for dudes everywhere and considered pretty hunkalicious to the ladies (not unlike Ryan Gosling today). He was a real rough-n-tumble every man's man in life and on screen.
But The Notebook — probably one of his more underappreciated roles in the timeline of his acting career — is REALLY where he shined. In the later stages of his career, he was taking on more of the "grandpa" roles. But instead of slipping off into obscurity like a lot of aging stars, something amazing unfolded on the big screen. His hardened edges were softened. And in his portrayal of old Noah, he could show a caring, gentler, new face of manliness: the caretaker of his beloved wife. Today, his performance proves that age doesn't diminish your strength as a man or a husband. In reality, it makes you MORE capable of unconditional love because there's no "youthful ego" getting in the way. (Not to mention, his performance can still melt the heart of even the most hardened cynic to love.)
Still unsure of this man's power to tug on heart strings? When I finally wrangled my boyfriend Alex into watching The Notebook with me (an embarrassing 10 years after its theatrical release), I didn't have high hopes for him to take it seriously. For the first three-quarters of the film, it was all eyerolls and "Hey girl" Ryan Gosling jokes.
But by the end scene? When Noah and Allie drift away together? It was all Niagara Falls, baby. Granted, Alex cried in that way dudes cry when they don't want you to know they're crying: blinking back tears, muttering under his breath about "those damn onion ninjas" ... but he cried. I saw it. It got him right in the feels too.
Yes, The Notebook is an emotional rollercoaster of tearjerking, heart string-tugging moments. I always get a little teary-eyed when I see Allie read the timeworn love letters she never received from Noah. And I'm always overcome with a bittersweet surge of emotions whenever I watch the epic make-out-in-the-rain scene.
Still, for all of the sweet Nicholas Sparks soundbites and the drooling over Ryan Gosling (I'm not going to sit here at my keyboard and pretend like I'm immune to his charms as a living Adonis), that's not what packs the punch behind this timeless love story. You experience deeper emotions when you see the aged Noah curl up with Allie on the hospital bed and drift off to eternal sleep together, hand in hand. THAT'S the moment when The Notebook gets everyone in the feels. THAT'S the moment when you fully appreciate the meaning of true, lifelong, lasting, unconditional love in its purest form. It's sweet that Noah sent a letter to Allie every day for 365 days. It's endearing that he built her a dream house (and that he included a painting spot just for her). But what makes it true love is that he stayed by her side even when his acts of love could not be remembered, reading her the story of their love every single day.
Yes, it's the love story of Allie and Noah, but it's really Noah's story. And I loved James Garner for telling it so beautifully.