The juxtaposition of Northern status and Southern charm isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking thematic element, however, it does create a strikingly similar storyline in two of the greatest love stories ever told.
In both cases, the female leads (Reese Witherspoon and Rachel McAdams) find themselves on the verge of a marriage made by status. In Sweet Home Alabama’s case, it comes in the form of a New York political dynasty. Similarly, in The Notebook, a Louisville cotton empire threatens the initial love story of McAdams and Ryan Gosling. The presumed marriages seem logical, safe, and most importantly approved by meddling in-laws. These parents are a key element in both: McAdams’ family is intent that their daughter continues down the path of luxury, where as it’s discovered Witherspoon’s family pushed her towards getting out the country by entering her in beauty pageants as a teen.
The Notebook’s storytelling allows us context into McAdams past- a luxury not provided in the Alabama fairy tale which starts with the New York city engagement and traces back to Witherspoon’s Greenville past. Despite the different paths taken, the routes of the story both lead us South where two very similar men await patiently for the return of their first loves. In both cases (Gosling and Josh Lucas), the men are self-made successes. Instead of using wealth to lure their lovers, they use earth’s natural landscape to tug on the heart strings of their former flames. Gosling’s renovated house and Lucas’ hand blown glass business are inspired by their first memories of love. These pillars of promise to the women are ultimately used as a symbol of growth and provide a destination for the stories to come full circle.
In both cases (Gosling and Josh Lucas) the forgotten male counterparts are self-made successes. Instead of using wealth to lure their lovers back, they use earth’s natural landscape to tug on the heart strings of their former flames. Gosling’s renovated house and Lucas’ hand blown glass business are both inspired by their first memories of love. These pillars of promise to the women are ultimately used as a symbol of growth and provide a destination for the stories to come full circle.
Another strikingly similar moment comes at the climax of passion in each movie. Each reuniting kiss comes during a torrential downpour, giving me flashbacks of Chad Michael Murray and Hilary Duff in Another Cinderella Story. The anticipation mixed with the elements come together to create two of the most famous lines in film history: “It still isn’t over”, and “So I can kiss you anytime I want.”
As always with the forgotten love story, the women end up falling back in love with their roots. In the end, the power of first loves always trumps the enticing future of what money can bring. A powerful theme that has remained prevalent all the way from Shakespeare to High School Musical.
The timelines of production are confusing, making it difficult to determine which story inspired the other. What we do know is that The Notebook (2004) was an adaptation of the 1996 novel by Nicholas Sparks. Since Sweet Home Alabama was released in 2002, we can assume one of two things: Either Sweet Home Alabama was a spin-off of the novel or the success of SWA pushed producers to adapt the novel into a screenplay.
In any situation, if you ever come across someone who likes one or the other of these two southern love stories, please remind them the two are not mutually exclusive. Just like McAdams’ and Witherspoon’s decision on who to marry, you can’t have both.