Topping the trending charts since its premiere, the Netflix series, ‘The Notebook’ has managed to captivate audiences worldwide.
Based on the popular 2003 novel of the same name, the romantic comedy explores the trials and tribulations of a young woman named Emily who, after an emotional breakdown, finds herself in a romance crisis.
While many might consider the story to be one of unrequited love, ‘The Notebook’ is much more than that. Indeed, for a film that was initially marketed as a comedic romance, director Ryan Coogler has described it as a “bittersweet love story” in which the leads’ characters find happiness together.
Here, we’ll examine whether or not ‘The Notebook’ can truly be regarded as a romantic comedy.
The Romantic Comedy Genre Definition
To put it simply, a romantic comedy is a comedy that involves — at least somewhat — a romantic relationship. The precise meaning of this genre varies from one to the other depending on which source you consult, but, broadly speaking, it involves two or more stars who have a cute or funny interaction that eventually evolves into a larger relationship.
This can be a simple enough definition, but it’s one that’s far from straightforward. To elaborate, a romantic comedy can involve several forms of comedic relationship, from straightforward dating to parallel friendship storylines to more mature romantic entanglements.
As the name implies, a romantic comedy often explores the hilarious or quirky interactions between its characters, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. In fact, it’s quite common for a romantic comedy to delve into darker themes like infidelity or family dysfunction.
Why ‘The Notebook’?
After an auspicious debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was one of the early titles to make the rounds of the festival circuit, ‘The Notebook’ became one of the early darlings of the Sundance success ball. The festival premiere was followed by a number of successful theatrical runs and strong media coverage that culminated in a Best Picture Oscar nomination for 2005’s ‘A Cinderella Story,’ the film adaptation of ‘The Notebook.’
Even now, after 13 years, ‘The Notebook’ remains one of the most acclaimed romantic comedy series of all time. It’s not hard to see why. The series boasts a fantastic ensemble cast, headlined by Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Gosling, who are both superb at conveying complex romantic feelings and competing desires.
Additionally, through the prism of time, Johansson’s character Emily gains a new perspective on the world that’s often both hilarious and poignant. She sees the affair, or should we say, “relationship,” from a place of maturity, not a place of idealized youth. This makes the actress’ character all the more complex and nuanced.
As a result, audiences are both entertained and informed by the series’ exploration of unfaithful behavior and the pitfalls that can ensue. Indeed, while many might consider the story of ‘The Notebook’ to be about a unrequited love, it’s really about the triumph of love and the sheer absurdity of seeking perfection in a romantic partner.
The Comedy Bit
Even if ‘The Notebook’ isn’t exactly what you would call a “romantic comedy,” it’s still often treated as one due to its light-hearted nature. Indeed, the series is often classified as a romantic comedy simply because it’s a “comedy” — and many romantic comedies are, by definition, comedies.
What’s more, ‘The Notebook’ was actually developed for television and was adapted for film by way of a writers’ room. As a result, it’s quite organic and realistic, even though it might seem like it would play out like a story straight out of a romance novel. (In fact, the series was originally titled “Romance Novel” before it was eventually shortened to “The Notebook.”)
In reality, ‘The Notebook’s’ comedic timing is so well-honed that it almost seems like a documentary. Consider the scene in which Emily receives a phone call from a former classmate named Natalie who wants to set up a date with her boyfriend. In an early scene, Emily is so consumed with worry over her romantic status that she doesn’t even notice the time. Suddenly, there’s a knock on the door. Startled, she answers it, only to discover that it’s Natalie, who, despite their estrangement, wants to set up a date with Emily. As Emily attempts to shush and shut the door in Natalie’s face, you can practically see the movie unfold in front of you.
Here, Ryan Gosling (as Kevin) goes over the top with an uncomfortable laugh while Johansson’s (as Emily) face remains impassive. In the background, Algee Smith’s character, Jimmy, offers up a quip about how he once had a neighbor who looked just like that and how he still doesn’t know what happened to her. This brief exchange of lines is meant to capture the awkwardness of a first date that never seems to go well. And it works — at least as far as comedy goes.
The Romantic Trio
While ‘The Notebook’ might involve a single romantic relationship between Emily, Scarlett Johansson’s character, and Ryan Gosling’s character, it’s actually an ensemble piece. This is especially evident in the case of its three-pronged villainous effort: Val Kilmer, Madsen Isham, and Mike Vogel. (Yes, that’s right: three acting legends!)
Vogel, played by Madsen Isham, is the epitome of cockiness, convinced that he can sleep with any woman and that women should be grateful for the attention. Kilmer, played by Val Kilmer, is the family-friendly face of greed, materialism, and indifference. And then, of course, there’s Johansson’s character, Emily.
The trio is tasked with ruining Kevin’s, or as he’s known in the series, “The Notebook,’s,’ ” (romantic comedy) romantic life. The plan is to ensure that he never meets or connects with anyone, which they do by making his life a living hell. In this way, as madame de Beauséjour so famously said, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”
Friendship vs. Romance
The first season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ features two story threads, one that pits a strong, independent woman against the religious fundamentalists who have taken over her hometown and one that examines the evolving relationship between Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss) and Sepehr (Jake Choi).
While both plotlines are fascinating, it’s the former that benefits most from comparison to ‘The Notebook’ — at least, in terms of their respective final product. In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Moss’ character finally gets to live out her dream of becoming a mother after years of forced abstinence. She gives birth to a daughter, Little Peggy, and names the child After her late mother, who died in the show-within-the-show, “Offred.’ s,” dramatic debut.
Moss’ performance is strong, but it’s hard not to compare her to Johansson’s performance as Emily. Like Moss’ character, Johansson’s character never finds “true love,” but, like, most importantly, she never gives up. Ultimately, Johansson’s character finds that happiness is within her grasp even if her initial search for it leads her down some unexpected roads. What’s more, in the years since ‘The Notebook”s release, Johansson has continued playing morally complex characters with aplomb — most notably, the title character in the 2012 film ‘Girl on the Moon’ and the evil Regina George in 2016’s ‘Sharp Objects.’
Not all romantic comedies need to be light-hearted — indeed, sometimes they can be rather dark. (Think: ‘Bachelorette’.)
Netflix and the streaming world in general have continued to push the envelope, challenging social norms and expectations, celebrating diversity, and demanding justice for all. While ‘The Notebook’ might fall short of being a truly “romantic comedy,” it’s an important part of this new creative landscape.