Here’s something you wouldn’t have guessed about me: I love musicals. My favorite musical is The Book of Mormon, but by a narrow margin–I’ve seen more than I can recount, and I love most.
We saw The Notebook at my wife’s behest. It’s a musical inspired by the romantic book and movie of the same title by Nicholas Sparks.
I had few expectations. Simona, who grew up on Ryan Gosling “hey girl…” memes, had all the expectations.
The movie, which Simona forced me to watch early in our dating career, is, regrettably, decent. But the musical is phenomenal.
If you are unfamiliar with the premise, think 1940s middle-American summertime Romeo & Juliet, but instead of youth and poison, it’s retirees and Alzheimer’s. Allie, the female love interest, suffers from the condition. Her husband, Noah, reads aloud the story of their lives to ignite Allie’s memory and return her to Noah, metaphorically speaking.
The narration guides the audience through biographical vignettes, exploring Allie’s life, Noah’s, and that of their children, family, and friends at critical moments.
They must have cut the Chicago cast from diamonds because it’s nearly flawless apart from one wrinkle. As a possible artistic decision, the oldest and first iterations of Noah and Allie introduced on stage are race-swapped with their younger counterparts. The couple is mixed race: Noah is white, as in the original telling, and Allie is black. But as senior citizens, Noah is black, and Allie is white.
The directors may have purposely done so to confuse us. It’s a red herring that leaves you questioning whether old Noah, whose name is deliberately withheld at the beginning, is reading his own story or someone else’s.
This was a poor choice because the slight bite of ‘a-ha’ we taste after discovering that all three actresses represent the same woman and all three actors represent the same man is a morsel tainted with the disbelief that a wide-eyed blonde teenage boy needs only 50 years to become John Beasley, a black and weathered baritone.
Thankfully, the players’ dedication to their exceptional performances saves this woke casting choice from tanking the entire program. The work is excellent, so you forgive its momentary lapses in judgment, of which there are several. Yes, I will poke fun at each one.
In the original story, Allie’s fiancé, Lon, is a successful and influential lawyer from the city. His career path defines the sharp and literarily one-dimensional difference between himself and Noah. Noah takes over his father’s lumber yard and works primarily with his hands in the countryside.
The musical found Lon’s original career of choice bourgeoisie and transformed him into a thriving public defender… If you’re rolling your eyes, it’s because you know the first thing about public defenders, something the musical’s authors do not or perhaps refuse to acknowledge.
The first thing everyone knows about public defense attorneys is that they are broke. They couldn’t cut it as paid lawyers and so lack power and are overworked. After painting Allie’s parents as elite, erudite traditionalists who want “what’s best” for Allie’s future, it’s hard to believe that wife-of-public-defense-attorney is what those two Ivy Leaguers had in mind.
But Allie didn’t want that upscale big-city public defender life; she wanted to be a painter. Early on, we see that she had a raw, youthful talent that her parents stymied when they separated her from Noah.
In a tucked-away comment by older Noah, we discover that Allie returns to painting after the two marry and move into the house that Noah built for them. Allegedly, Allie’s painting career was so successful that it supported her, her doting and broke husband, and the two children they raised together.
I can’t speak for you, but I will when I say that; yeah, we get it; it’s that one friend who raises an entire family in the country by painting landscapes. Who doesn’t know someone like that?
You’ll be shocked to discover that in the original telling, Noah supports Allie’s artistic career through whatever modest means he can employ, not the other way around. This is typically true of any spousal pairing in which one partner is a
starving aspiring artist, let alone an artist disconnected from major cities where curators can make their career a profitable yet improbable reality–maybe she got into NFTs.
Thankfully, the feminist and woke daydreams injected into this story fail to undercut its core and rather conservative message. This story, and its leading man Noah, are compelling to both male and female audiences because of Noah’s commitment, dog-headed determination, and absolute certainty.
After meeting Allie, he decides in fewer than two months that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. Full-stop. After she leaves his town and he goes off to war, he returns to buy and renovate the house he promised her when they were teenagers.
He spends five years building furniture and mending a house in a town that she no longer lives in because he has a terminal if-you-build-it-she-will-come belief in himself and her.
That level of certainty intoxicates a generation of kids raised on moral relativism and Facebook’s Maybe button. Noah knows he loves Allie more than I know two plus two equals four.
Even though there are no soul mates in real life and the story muddies commitment with serendipitous fate, we still come away with a powerful message. That message is this: dedicate yourself to another, have faith, build a life with that person, and when it’s time to walk through life’s fires, you will have someone you love to hold your hand.
Does that always work out? No. Is that a guarantee? Not at all. But it’s a north star axiom worth pursuing that lives in the heart of every person, regardless of how much cynicism and selfishness are caked over it.
Today, this message is evaporating from the public domain. Girls choose careers; boys choose instant gratification. We’re pulling further away from commitment and diving deeper into transactional exchanges.
We’re told, and my mother was one such proponent, that we don’t need to marry nor have children to have fulfilling lives. We should have few or no children because they’re expensive and consume fossil fuels. I am done with that, and I wish I had done away with it sooner.
I don’t believe that marriage or commitment are patriarchal values imposed on society to subjugate women and empower men. I don’t even think marriage was invented at all.
I believe it is a deep, biological, and practical desire that faith organizations only codified later, and civilization then twisted and perverted through time. But it endures and will continue to do so as long as people believe in the kind of powerful human commitment on display in The Notebook.
It’s cheesy, predictable, tear-jerking, and I loved it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.