Friday, April 20, 2012

My Problem with Nicholas Sparks Movies

OK, full disclosure: I've never read a Nicholas Sparks book. His books could be the most well-written, wonderful books on the planet, and I would never know it.

However, I have seen the majority of the movies based on his books: "A Walk To Remember," "The Notebook," "Nights in Rodanthe," "Dear John" and, today, "The Lucky One." 

I didn't really like any of them. (And the fact that I've seen 5 of 7 Nicholas Sparks movies kind of makes me want to cry, then re-evaluate my life choices because I obviously went wrong somewhere.)

Oh, there are bits I like - the 40s feel of the love story in "The Notebook," Zac Efron in "The Lucky One" (specifically his muscles!) and so on - but, in general, the movies kind of make me want to hurl into the nearest popcorn bucket.

It's not even that I don't like romance, because I actually kind of do. I cheerfully sat through three hours of "Titanic" a few weekends ago and loved it! I even teared up. Two of my all-time favorite movies are "Casablanca" and "Gone with the Wind." I even get gooshy at the romantic parts of a lot of non-romance movies. The "I love you"-"I know" exchange in "Star Wars"? When Wesley says, "As you wish" in "The Princess Bride"? My heart melts every time.

So why not Nicholas Sparks movies? Oh, there are several reasons:
  • Too much soft-focus. I saw "The Lucky One" today, and every other scene was some soft-focus, slow-motion scene of the main lovebirds frolicking in the woods or rowing a boat or something equally as idyllic. One or two scenes of that in a movie is OK. But Nicholas Sparks movies could be 45 minutes long, tops, if they cut them out. Plus, they function as a lazy way to show the couple falling in love, rather than showing them actually, you know, falling in love while doing anything remotely interesting, like fixing the Millennium Falcon or hanging around in Paris during World War II while your Czech resistance-leading husband was killed escaping from a Nazi concentration camp.
  • Too melodramatic. There is a constant specter of death hanging over all of the movies, posed to strike when it will make the audience weep the hardest. I find that totally gross. I don't have a problem with characters dying, but it feels so contrived. Take "Nights in Rodanthe" for example. They fall in love, and then he's tragically killed in a mudslide while helping poor children or something. (I can't remember the exact details.) "The Notebook" bugs me too, with the frame story of the old guy telling the lady with Alzheimer's their story and then, of course, dying at the end. I mean, COME ON! You can't get more melodramatic than that. (I realize that I will get blasted by some smarty-pants for liking "Titanic," then, but at least it made sense that Jack died in "Titanic" - HE WAS ON THE FREAKIN' TITANIC!)
  • Things are far too perfect. Aside from the fact that people die all the time, everything else is perfect. People live in idyllic small towns, in big beautiful historic houses, next to perfectly clean and clear bodies of water where they can frolic. There are conflicts, but everything wraps up totally neatly - either they get together, or somebody nobly dies and can be remembered as a perfect martyr of love forever. Contrast that with arguably the two best romances of all time - "Casablanca" and "Gone With the Wind." Do they end perfectly? Spoiler alert: Hell no they don't! And that's part of what makes them great. Scarlett ends up at Tara, a shadow of its former glory, with Rhett having walked out of her life just as she realized she really loved him all the time. Ilsa leave Rick in Casablanca. There's war and other lovers (real or imagined) and real conflict, and in the end, things don't work out. It's messy and open-ended, just like real life! In Sparks books, it's all neat little packages, tied up with a bow. It's not only horribly unrealistic, but once you're in on the secret, it makes the movies really boring to watch.
I realize that Nicholas Sparks movies are well-loved, and I can't say that I don't understand why. I know it represents a perfect fantasy life, and it's not much different than enjoying a fairy tale with a happy ending. They're fine for what they are - romance schlock - and I'm glad that people get joy out of watching them. I tend to dislike them, but I'll go see schlocky action crap any day of the week, so who am I to judge? But for me, I want so much more out of a romantic story, and Sparks movies just don't do it for me.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to favorite this page, so I can refer to it the next time I have to explain to someone why I can't stand his stuff. I'm not unromantic, these movies just never properly suspend my disbelief. And it hurts to find out someone I associate with actually likes this schlock.