Sunday, January 27, 2008

"If You're A Bird, I'm A Bird": Why We Love Romantic Movies

FROM 4/14/2006:  Did anyone see "The Notebook" when it came out in 2004?  You know, the romance movie based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same title?  Well, I didn't, and a cursory look at the box office receipts tells me at $81 million domestic, I might be alone.  Its apparent success, coupled with its fundamental romantic core, destined this movie to have a never-ending cable shelf life akin to that of a Twinkie in a bomb shelter.  No matter when you turn on your TV, somewhere, on some channel, you're likely to find "The Notebook" or one of its romantic brethren serving up a comforting and familiar (if sometimes stale) taste.

This is how "The Notebook" and I crossed paths, during a 4am channel surf brought on by a wakening wave of nausea from my nascent pregnancy (six weeks in, it's rock and roll.)  My husband Warren was back to sleep quickly -- I was wide awake, hoping to find something on TV that I'd seen before, something I had a shorthand with, something pop and easy that would lull me back to a happy, nausea-free slumber.  But instead, I found "The Notebook," not quite at its beginning but close enough for what I assumed was a standard romantic movie.  It was the BOY MEETS GIRL scene.  I made a mental note of it and kept flipping channels.  Nothing but bad police dramas, action movies, and lite cable porn which made me wonder for a second if there was an expectant father out there looking to be lulled, too.  (The cable universe, I noted, was much better prepared for such an occasion.  James Brown knew what he was talking with "It's A Man's Man's Man's World.")  So, true to gender stereotyping, I passed up "Busty Cops 2" and flipped back to "The Notebook."

What plays before me is pleasant enough.  Rachel McAdams -- the young actress who I like from "Mean Girls" -- does well as the female lead.  She is convincing as a 1940s rich, Southern girl.  Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, I only know form his annoying performance in "Remember The Titans," so I wondered how far I'd get with this romance since one half of said romantic couple wasn't appealing to me.  But as Gosling's character grew on McAdams' character, so did Gosling grow on me.  The clincher came about halfway through the BOY MEETS GIRL dance -- Gosling and McAdams are out on a lake and McAdams looks at the birds and starts talking about how she feels like a bird and wants Gosling to be one, too.  He then turns to her and wins over her, me and every other living soul watching in a late-night nausea-induced stupor when he says... "If you're a bird, I'm a bird."  Now, nakedly put out of context, I realize that line can sound nausea-inducing on its own.  But the intention behind it in the movie -- the intention to love wholly and completely in a transformative manner -- well, this is what makes it one of the many amazing and surprisingly deep moments "The Notebook" has to offer.

The movie then gets even better -- it turns out that all of this young folks "first blush of love" stuff is being told in flashback.  In the present, James Garner is reading to Gena Rowlands from the titular "Notebook" as they spend the day in an old folks' home.  It takes a millisecond of thought to realize they are the aged version of the young couple -- this isn't a spoiler, it really is that obvious -- even though the movie is cloying about it for some time.  Which, somehow, is liberating to me.  I already know the young'uns end up "happily ever after" -- what I don't know is why we are spending time with them as old folks if that's truly the case.  I reason that obviously there is going to be something new told about their love story in the present but I didn't know "what" or "how" and this ultimately hooks me deeply into "The Notebook."  

By the end of the movie, the "why" had tears falling from my face.  I was trying to be quiet for Warren, but I failed, caught up in an uncontrollable volley of sniff and sob.  Warren groggily asked if everything was okay.  I choked out a quick, "Yes.  The.  Movie."  He went back to sleep as I muzzled up and thought about the final moments of "The Notebook" where Rowlands and Garner completely earned the right to call themselves the World's Best "Romeo and Juliet": Geriatric Division.

Though the ending is admittedly another recycling of Shakespeare (and who knows where old Willy boy got it from) it was the IDEA behind the old lovers that moved me -- the same IDEA behind the young lovers -- WE LIVE FOR LOVE.  We only feel complete with true love and at our cores, we strive to have our duality become unity and romance is the vehicle of that driving force.  The Gosling/Garner character has dedicated his life to love and because of that he and McAdams/Rowlands are able to connect against all odds, financial, familial, medical or otherwise.  This IDEA was so well captured by this movie it's no wonder it connected to so many people.  And it's no wonder why I blubbered.

A few days later in an unrelated conversation with Warren (about the deterioration of his first marriage of all things), I asked him if he thought things were good between us.  He replied, "Yes, very good, though I was worried the other night."  I asked which night and he said when he saw me crying so hard over "The Notebook," he wondered if I was crying over some long lost love and felt like I'd made a mistake in my life.  This made me laugh -- why couldn't I just be crying that hard over the movie?  Especially considering the extra shot of hormonal imbalance involved?  He admitted his paranoia, which is why he didn't bring it up in the moment.  

I asked him if he'd ever seen "The Notebook" and he said he'd seen bits here and there on cable (further proof of my "Twinkie" theory).  He saw many of the same surface things I saw in the movie -- romantic cliches (rich girl/poor boy; missed communications, etc.) and obvious plotting -- but to him they were just that.  To me those were things "done right" and executed with the intention of awakening the romantic nature within the viewer and connecting us to love's transformative power.  I argue to Warren that this is the very function of romance in movies (and in life) -- it's supposed to move and overwhelm us, to bring us to tears and cause us to go beyond ourselves to express a "larger than life" type of love.  Warren agreed the parts with the old couple impressed him, especially when Rowlands had an attack of dementia that made her forget Garner after he spent the whole movie laboring to bring her back to him.  Even still, Warren found the last moments of the movie, where Garner and Rowlands die holding hands as birds soar over the lake, sappy and overdone.

Me?  I found those same moments to be deeply moving and significant.  Not because I fantasize about having such a romance myself (maybe this was Warren's worry -- that I might be angling for a murder-suicide pact as a 50th anniversary gift) but because I loved the idea behind it.  Now I wish I'd remembered to remind Warren during this talk of another moment that happened during that 4-6am night/morning/"Notebook" viewing.  After I'd calmed myself and dried my tears, I woke Warren up once more to kiss him and say I love you.  He mumbled, "I love you, too, baby" and kissed me back.  The we finally fell asleep holding hands as the birds outside our window began chirping in a new day.

Deep Pop.  We love it.


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Hey Lori! I was good to catch up with you yesterday.

I also missed THE NOTEBOOK when it came out in theaters. I caught the movie one late night on cable. I cried like a baby at the end and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

DenaRena said...

Hi Lo,

I do like romantic movies - but must be in the right mood. I will check this one out.