Charm Makes a Southern Belle: The Notebook and Boy Meets Girl
It's two days into March and I'm bringing an official (and officially late) end to #ChickFlickFebruary. I wanted to end with something classic. I wanted to end with something new and different. I had a strong desire for something with a bit of a twang, maybe a Southern Belle, and crazy rich mothers with a lot of absurd rules for their precious daughters. I figured I'd watch The Notebook. It was also suggested I watch Boy Meets Girl. Made a decade apart, there are many reasons these films might be seen as polar opposites. What's most striking, though, is that their differences are totally unremarkable.
The Notebook (2004)
I've loved another with all my heart and soul; and to me, that has always been enough.
This is the new classic, isn't it? This is the movie women supposedly sit down and watch with a cup of tea, a box of kleenex, and/or a pint of ice cream (depends on how much crying you're planning on doing - that shit melts).
I admit to owning The Notebook.
I'll even admit to watching it on repeat for a few months after I first saw it. But never once did it I watch it with kleenex in hand; no, I let the snot and tears just run all over my face, 'cause that's the kind of girl I am. But I don't cry about the young people falling in love,
I cry about old people.
And what is primarily heart wrenching inThe Notebook isn't the unrequited love, but the brutal end that life lets loose on all of us. We live, we die. Somewhere in between those two, we get old, and we get frail - and those are hard things to watch on-screen. I love Gena Rowlands. I might be a Nihilist, but catharsis like this is just too much for even the coldest, deadest heart. I CAN'T EVEN.
But we're here to talk about what makes The Notebook the quintessential southern melodrama - your perfect chick flick. A period romance, full of the following:
Traditional Southern Belles
Rachel McAdams' Allie is precisely this. A girl of a certain social standing and economic class, she is pretty, conservatively dressed, even more conservatively behaved, and marriageable. Of course, the archetype isn't restricted to the American South - it has roots in Europe, represents in a certain type of New England family, and has been written about and represented for ages. But what makes Allie Calhoun a Southern Belle is that certain charm. I don't need to define it for you - just watch her, and you'll see. She is charming. So charming that her parents have to keep a firm grip on her reality, bringing us to,
Disapproving, Meddling, Wrong-headed Parents
You know the type. They show up in pretty much every story of unrequited love - and very often, they're the reason the love never gets to that requited stage. No different here. Joan Allen plays Allie's mother, a former southern belle herself, who has no interest in seeing her daughter waste her life on a poor man. She's also, as is often the catch-22 of such stories, a woman with her own secrets - secrets that motivate her to do something so morally corrupt as to hide 365 love letters that didn't belong to her (you do detect a hint of sarcasm here)!
But that strong difference of opinion, that butting of heads, that questioning of parental authority is what's necessary to make the burn of the romance all the brighter. This is melodrama, and it's made to appeal to your deepest, darkest, burniest emotions. Because,
Love conquers all. Love is all there is.
Can't think of "love conquers all" without thinking of that painfully abrupt producer's cut of Brazil - I know, just me. But that is the penultimate theme of The Notebook and any romantic drama like it. It's said here in any number of ways: "If you're a bird, I'm a bird"; "I've loved another, and that has always been enough"; "I want all of you forever, every day..." You get it. No matter who we are, where we come from, what station we possess, or where we are going, the thing that really makes us human is our ability to love one another.
That's what makes you cry when Allie finally reunites with Noah. That's what makes me cry when Gena Rowlands finally recognizes the old man reading to her is her husband. Everything else just melts away. Love is IT.
Now, let's get real for a moment.
This is the only Nicholas Sparks adaptation I can put up with. I think it has much to do with the very capable cast (Rachel McAdams is an actual dream come true), and also director Nick Cassavetes (son of that Cassavetes). It is a simple, conservative-minded story that in the hands of others could easily be a predictable bore.
Here, it's still predictable, but the simplicity of its story, combined with the gorgeous southern backdrop and very pretty cinematography, makes the whole thing shine. And all those things combined make it an easy romantic classic - because the love and utter humanity of it is able to take center stage.
You know the one. "It still isn't over!" That kiss is a damn good one.
Boy Meets Girl (2014)
-What does that make me? -Human.
Boy Meets Girl is an indie feature recommended to me (Thank you, One Dizzy Bee!) that I popped on Netflix one afternoon on a whim. I happened to have finished The Notebook in preparation for this review earlier that morning, and was all prepped for another trek into southern belle territory.
Some people may see Boy Meets Girl as a platform for LGBTQ issues.
If you want to see it that way, sure, it is. It's important. Especially in a year when a cisgender male was Oscar nominated for his portrayal of a transgender female, it stands as an example to those who don't seem to realize trans actors exist, or that a community's story is best told by voices from within that community.
There's a Southern Belle.
A real, classic Southern Belle from money and conservative politics defying her parents to love someone "beneath her station." And that's just Francesca. Ricky, the protagonist, is a trans woman with style, grace, femininity, and that same thing Allie Calhoun possesses in droves - charm. Straight up southern charm.
There are those jerky, rude, border-line crazy parentals, again.
They're back and they're obnoxiously wrong as ever. Francesca's mother tries to put a stop to her daughter's "fling" in the worst way possible. The conversation is mortifying (though partly for an intense bit of over-acting), and the end result stinging.
Parental judgment does its part to keep the two girls separated - then does its usual blow-up and brings everything and everyone back together. It's the same predictable trope from before, only here there is no Joan Allen-with-a-secret to redeem them. Francesca's mother represents all the people who refuse to see Ricky for what she really is - a person.
And then there's love.
The movie arrives at a different conclusion for the couple (in fact, it's a pretty interesting and satisfying twist in the story), but its general thesis is precisely the same as The Notebook's. So let me say it again, loud and clear: No matter who we are, where we come from, what station we possess, or where we are going, the thing that really makes us human is our ability to love one another.
And I'm pretty sure, after 29 days of romance, rom-com, southern belles, princesses, ballerinas and women's picture research that this is what makes a chick flick a chick flick.
The presence of love is attractive to us: to women, to men who care to admit it, to all people, regardless of political party, geography, education, age, or gender.
Ricky's exit from the lake. She is naked, she is pretty, and she is herself.
*You can watch Boy Meets Girl on Netflix Instant
If You Like it, Watch:
Another summer romance, this time between two girls who seem to be more than friends, and also, maybe more than human. It may or may not be a werewolf movie. It's good.
Want to relive the February Challenge? EVERY MONTH is #ChickFlick appropriate!
Start with the first post – All That Jazz is a Chick Flick
Check out previous picks, like Philomena.
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