The Notebook (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Notebook is adapted from a best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks, who is a member of a very exclusive club - the society of men who write timeless best-selling romantic novels for women. Since their membership roster is part of the vast body of erudition outside my areas of knowledge, the only other club member I can name is Robert James Waller, the guy who wrote The Bridges of Madison County. Those two men have some things in common, perhaps the most important of which is that they both came from outside the world of letters when they became novelists. Professor Waller taught applied mathematics and economic theory for a couple of decades before his first mass market book was published, and he was 53 years old when The Bridges of Madison Country became a publishing phenomenon. Nicholas Sparks had a business/finance degree and was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep when The Notebook broke through, although he had always wanted to be a writer and had written a novel when he was still a 19-year-old undergraduate at Notre Dame.

The Notebook qualifies as an official chick-flick by our objective definition: the score assigned by female voters (8.7) is a full point higher than the score from male voters (7.7). Therefore, instead of telling you how I feel about this movie, I think I can sum up its appeal with the following information. I have a nineteen year old daughter and a fourteen year old niece. The former's favorite movie was Titanic. The latter's is The Notebook. My niece and her friends watch The Notebook again and again, and they are still talking about it now, although it has been gone from theaters for more than a year, and was released on DVD five months ago. It is the ultimate film for eighth grade white girls, a Degas painting for the new millennium.

This chart tells the story:

age Male Female
below 18 8.4 9.2
18-29 7.6 8.8
30-49 7.6 8.2
above 49 7.8 8.3

Yes, it is a chick-flick, but boys actually like the movie, and men don't hate it at all. I watched it without fast forwarding, and the lowest score on the chart above, 7.6, is still in classic territory. The 9.2 is off the charts, and that score has actually been adjusted downward through some arithmetical finagling. The unadjusted average of these votes is 9.5! IMDb doesn't publish Top Ten lists by demographic sub-group, but this is probably the most popular film of all time among young girls. Amelie is rated only 8.9 by the same group.

And it made money. A lot of money.

Publishers have always known that there is a tremendous commercial market for "women's books." The Bridges of Madison County is the best-selling novel of all time, and Sparks's books are also phenomenally popular, with sales of about fifty million copies to date. Film producers also know that there is a massive latent market for "women's movies" - as Titanic and My Big Fat Greek Wedding have demonstrated - but that market tends to stay dormant because film moguls don't really know how to tap into that well as effectively as book publishers do. Most films continue to be made by and for men. This was one of the successes. The film version of The Notebook debuted to tepid critical response (49% positive reviews) and a lukewarm opening weekend ($13 million), but it connected with female viewers. Their word-of-mouth network drove it along the same kind of path that Greek Wedding blazed, and The Notebook consistently piled on the ticket sales week after week until it had become a major commercial success ($81 million). The total-to-opening ratio of six-to-one is impressive since most films finish in the threes, but even that is still a far cry from the eighty-to-one racked up by Greek Wedding and the twenty-to-one achieved by Titanic. Hell, I'm still trying to figure out why The Notebook grossed only eighty million, given that every young teen girl loves it and that so many women of all ages have read the book.

The plot is uncomplicated. An old man is in a rest home. Each day he reads a romantic story to an old woman with senile dementia. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that the story is their own, and that he is reading it in the hope that it will stir her memories of herself. The doctors tell him that senile dementia is irreversible, but that point doesn't seem to be important to him. In his view, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Even if he fails completely he is still getting a chance to re-live the greatest moments of his life with the woman he shared them with, and that alone gives him pleasure. And there is always that hope ...

Although there are romantic moments in both time periods, most of the action takes place in the flashbacks, which are pictorializations of the story he is reading from his notebook. Nick Cassavetes directed, and the older version of the woman is played by Nick's own mother, Gena Rolands. 

The Notebook has a very good chance to make the IMDb all-time Top 250 some day. It fact, it probably should be there now! The Hustler is rated #162, although it is rated 7.9 with 9000 votes, while The Notebook is rated 7.9 with 14000 votes!  IMDb does not explain all of its statistical modeling in depth, but they say that the top 250 list is based solely on votes from "regular voters." The Notebook is rated only 7.0 by their "top 1000" voters. (I wonder how many women are on that prestigious list. I wonder how many in that group have even seen a woman up close.) Despite the lack of enthusiasm from critics, and the IMDb "top 1000 voters," we can look back on it objectively, a year and a half after its release, and see clearly that it has become a classic of the "women's movie" genre. 



  • Commentary by: novelist Nicholas Sparks
  • Commentary by: director Nick Cassavetes
  • 12 deleted scenes with optional director commentary
  • All in the Family: Nicholas Cassavetes featurette
  • Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story Well Told featurette
  • Southern Exposure: Locating The Notebook featurette
  • Casting Rachel and Ryan featurette
  • Rachel McAdams screen test


Jamie Brown shows a breast from the side-rear. Rachel McAdams shows her breast from the side, but in an exceedingly dark scene.

In the deleted scenes, Rachel McAdams clearly shows her right breast and nipple in the alternate version of "the second love scene."

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4

  • British consensus out of four stars: one and a half stars. Independent 4/10, Guardian 2/10, Times 4/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $29 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $25 million. It did thirteen million on its opening weekend and closed with $81M
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's the ultimate C+, in that it is at the very summit of a genre - it's arguably the most popular film of all time among teen girls. Whether that is true or not, it is certainly a chick-flick classic. Given that the high IMDB scores among men and boys demonstrates crossover appeal, you could certainly argue for a B, and I would have no good rebuttal beyond my own lack of enthusiasm for the film.

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