You’re in the middle of watching some hardcore emotional porn when you stop and say to yourself, “wait, I’ve watched this exact scene like twelve times before,” — this is the first sign you are watching a Nicholas Sparks work of romantic deception.
There are several other severely obvious signs that you are in the middle of watching a trite Sparks classic, filled with the unrealistic expectations of love you’ve always wished more movies were based upon:
1. The setting is in some enchanted southern town by the sea where, oddly enough, no one has a southern accent and everyone is white. Safe Haven supposedly takes place in Louisiana. Same with The Lucky One. There are no people of color, anywhere (Yes this is a bigger problem than just Nicholas Sparks’ movies). I don’t understand this. Okay, the nurse in beginning of The Notebook was African American. See my point?
2. There’s always a pickup truck. I think Sparks has an affinity for girls who drive pick up trucks. I wonder if this is more of a girl power thing or a trait he just finds sexy in women but either way, there needs to be a pickup truck.
3. There’s a beach or a river. Like I said, these movies are usually in South Carolina or Louisiana or somewhere on the Southern Coast so there has to be swimming. Of course, the scene with the main characters swimming in said river or ocean appears way funner than any time you’ve ever been swimming. The splashes are infinite. Remember: “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.”
4. The central characters will get stuck in a rainstorm while having a romantic boat ride to some romantic fairy island with low-hanging oak trees surrounding them as white doves circle the sky, where they will talk about their dead spouses or how they want to achieve their dreams. This was all culminate in an emotional storm where the characters chaotically embrace and either go all the way in steamy fashion like The Notebook, or get interrupted by the town cop like in Safe Haven. Either way, it’s sexy.
5. The bad husband is a cop who abuses his power. Cue damsel in distress plot line that inevitable leads to her being saved with (maybe) some saving grace plot twists — in Safe Haven she shoots her ex-husband herself (Go, girl, girl) and in The Lucky One the borderline abusive ex-husband cop ends up killing himself because he can’t get over Zac Efron’s biceps.
6. Some mix up always causes life-altering consequences that are worked out within the next fifteen minutes of the movie by way of actually just explaining the truth and then usually, making out. We can see this is the lovable terror of the mother (Joan Allen) in The Notebook who hides Allie’s letters, or when Zac Efron can’t find a way to show Taylor Schilling the lost picture of her he found while deployed in The Lucky One (I’ll purposefully skip the weirdness of a brother only having a picture of his sister while deployed).
7. Montages are the main platform for character and relationship development. Because we all know how tricky it can actually be to write good dialogue, so why not throw on some almost original, mood-fitting music, and film the couple shoving ice cream in each other’s faces while they ride their bikes or sail a boat?
8. There is a scene where someone is fixing up a house: In Safe Haven, Hough needs to fix up the old cabin in the woods and hilarity ensues when Josh Duhamel comes in for some primetime making out and his foot goes right through the floor board. OUCH, amiright? And of course, who could forget Gosling roofing his dream house in the rain for the love of his life? It seems as though no one hires help in these movies; Sparks seems to be a superfan of DIY-ing.
9. There’s a dancing scene. We all know The Notebook scene (which, I have trouble including with the likes of Safe Haven, The Lucky One, and The Last Song but still) where Ryan Gosling becomes an international heart throb when he asks Rachel McAdams if she wants to dance and them hums Billie Holiday likes he’s some god in vintage trousers. Which, let’s face it, he is. Then there’s the star-gazing scene from A Walk to Remember. But the best examples are the montage scenes with the main characters spending time dancing and picnicing as if to say “Look at how well we know each other now! Can you imagine us not being together? See how natural we are together! She’s even good with my motherless kids!”
10. White people embrace for a movie poster that is consistently a cheap knockoff of Casablanca and Gone with the Wind . Not much to say about this recycled phenomenon.
11. A serious illness or life event threatens to tear love apart, whether it be cancer (A Walk to Remember, The Last Song), Alzheimer’s (The Notebook), domestic violence (Safe Haven) — It’s just got to be super tragic while ultimately commentating on the omnipotent power of love. Love can only be beaten by death, and even then, you still have the memories of you star-gazing.
12. Some’s spouse died recently and it’s really, really, hard to get over, but this new attractive person who has a troubled past of their own will make it a lot easier.
13. Even great actors succumb to weakened, over-romanticized versions of themselves. I’m looking at you, Richard Gere (from Nights in Rodanthe).
14. The feeling of brutal manipulation when the movie is over after realizing that Ryan Gosling will never follow you to a carnival and hang on the ferris wheel until you agree to go on a date with him, and that no Marine is going to stalk you down and tell you that you are the reason he is still alive.
15. Ultimately, the lesson that tragedy is the essential backdrop to ever-lasting, romantic love. So, no, agreeing on what to buy at the grocery store with your spouse is in no way sexy or indicative of whether your relationship with last. Also, normal love is boring and will ultimately be overshadowed by grandiose ideas of what it really means to give/show love (Sorry, James Marsden, you didn’t write Allie a letter every day for a year, soooo move on).
The reality is, these movies make a lot of money and a lot of people watch them. As a sixteen-year-old girl I counted down the days till The Notebook’s release as if it were my 21st birthday. Then again, I’m a recovering romantically unrealistic loveaholic. If these movies aren’t damaging little girls’ perceptions of beauty (being white, skinny, a bit lost, and remarkably charming) and love ( it conquers all, it’s mostly white, dependent upon the male finding you/saving you/helping you save yourself, can only happen after your other spouse/brother/father/sister/best friend has died) than it’s my own fault I keep dreaming of scenarios where Matti comes and saves from that guy I keep seeing at Starbucks. Either way, love is different for everyone so stop pretending to be Rachel McAdams and go walk your dogs with your spouse like a normal person.