I remember the euphoric rush the first time I watched The Notebook. A burst of nostalgia for fictional characters I had never known washed over me. Allie and Noah lay together, dying on her hospital bed, and I weeped in my living room. It was the end of their love story, but the start of mine: with Nicholas Sparks movies. These days, we could all do with a little escapism. There's no better season to watch his plot lines unfold on the screen than during the sweet summer months. Sparks' plots always seem to marvel over the magic of summer and delight it in its promise, but which to choose? There are so many to watch, so which tear-jerkers should you indulge in, and which can you do without?
Hit: The Notebook
This is undoubtedly a classic. The love between traditional dame Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) and her forbidden crush Noah (Ryan Gosling), a working man, is a timeless narrative of love between the have and the have nots. Let us not forget the steamy makeout session between McAdams and Gosling in the lake scene, or the memorialized, "If you’re a bird, I’m a bird,” line. Be prepared to ugly cry at the bittersweet finale.
Skip: Dear John
Dear John tells the story of John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a rugged green beret with an angry streak, and the sensitive Savannah Lynn Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) who is studying to become a special education teacher. The unlikely pair meet on the beach and quickly fall for each other in only a two week span. I would have given this a rec, but, TBH, it’s a bit cringey that Richard Jenkins, an able bodied person, plays a character with a disability. That, and Tatum’s character's clear struggle with toxic masculinity is portrayed as a compatible fit with his vulnerable girlfriend. It’s all very 2010. Try Tatum in The Vow or Seyfriend in Letters to Juliet, instead.
Hit: The Last Song
The Last Song is a powerful love story featuring Miley Cyrus and her now ex-husband Liam Hemsworth (2019 was a rough year for them). Cyrus plays Ronnie, a bitter teenager resentful of her parent’s divorce, until she meets Will (Hemsworth), an honest, good-looking town folk who works at the aquarium. The two have a sweet summer fling, and their two stark personalities complement each other well, which is good, because Ronnie is about to make the rash decision to reject Julliard, a dream school, because of her father. If you can stomach watching the undeniable chemistry between Cyrus and Hemsworth–knowing they later marry only to divorce IRL–then this watch is for you. Bonus points for the epic “When I Look At You” music video to accompany the film.
Skip: The Longest Ride
There's a disclaimer on this recommendation, because I've never been one who finds ~~cowboys~~ sexy. So, as you may imagine, that heavily impacted my opinion on this movie. Scott Eastwood plays a brave Luke Collins, who barely shirks danger and demise when riding bulls. He plays counter to Britt Robertson, a curious Southern girl who is not scared of his devil-may-care attitude in the ring, until she realizes he might die because of it. The dual storyline–an intertwined past with present–is a bit overplayed as a literary device for Sparks, and the intrigue was lost on me. Try it out, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Hit: Safe Haven
I’ll admit, I read the book, too, for this one. The suspense of a mystery novel mixed with the seaside romance was enough to warrant a read with a watch, in my opinion. Julianne Hough is Katie, a woman on the run from her abusive police officer husband and ends up enchanting a widowed Alex, played by Josh Duhamel. You might think there would be red flags with this one (woman surviving abuse finds solace in another man?) but the two characters heal each other from the trauma life has inflicted upon them.
The main theme of Safe Haven is hope, which we could all use more of these days. Isn’t that what Sparks is about anyway? Get comfortable, and prepare to dream of life-altering romance. Whether you’re single AF or quarantining with your partner, these stories make their fictional worlds come alive and might just rekindle sparks in the time of quarantine.