James Marsden Deserved Better In The Notebook
Hey, quick question: Who was the villain in The Notebook?
On Thursday, Ingrid Michaelson announced that she will write the songs for a forthcoming musical based on the 2004 movie, which is itself based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. The musical’s Broadway premiere date has yet to be set, but the story will be written by This Is Us producer Bekah Brunstetter, so basically the thing has been engineered to make you bawl your eyes out.
But the announcement opened up a wound I have let fester for much longer than I would like to admit, and reminded me of a problem I’ve had with the story from day one: that Lon Hammond Jr., The Notebook’s interim love interest, deserved better. I challenge Michaelson, Brunstetter, and everyone else involved in the production to remedy this situation for me, my colleagues (some of whom feel the same way I do), and James Marsden fans everywhere: Clear Lon Hammond Jr.’s good name! Give him an anguished solo song when he lets Allie go. Anything!
For the uninitiated, The Notebook is a Sparksian love story about Noah (played in the film by Ryan Gosling) and Allie (played by Rachel McAdams), two teens from different tax brackets who fall in love one summer. Her parents disapprove of the match and separate them; Noah writes her letters every day for a year, only for those letters to be confiscated by Allie’s mother (played by a deliciously chilling Joan Allen). Because she thinks Noah has gotten over her, Allie moves on with her life, and becomes a nurse to help the war effort; during her service, she helps care for a completely bandaged soldier who is later revealed to be the very hot and very rich Lon Hammond Jr. (played by James Marsden). Allie falls in love with Lon, he asks her to marry him, and she says yes … but then she reads a newspaper article about Noah building her the house of her dreams. So, she visits Noah, they fight, they fall back in love, and they live happily ever after, until dementia claims Allie’s memory and Noah makes it his duty to read her their love story every day until she remembers, like a modern-day Sisyphus.
We are conditioned to root for Allie and Noah from the outset, even if Noah coerces her into dating him by threatening his own life on a ferris wheel, negs her incessantly on their first date, and spends a good portion of his adult life restoring a literal plantation. They also fight — a lot! That seems unhealthy to me but we are told that all of this is okay, and romantic, even. Theirs is the big, sweeping, dramatic love story. So Lon doesn’t need to be evil for us to know Allie and Noah will wind up together.
Meanwhile, Lon waits for her when she cryptically tells him she has to go “clear her head” and “take care of some things,” and is totally understanding when she admits that “some things” equated to “sleeping with Noah.” It would be one thing if he was manipulative, or rude, or insensitive to Allie’s cold feet. But Lon’s only crime was that he was too perfect, and too understanding. Lon Hammond Jr. did nothing wrong.
Despite the fact that Lon was nice and neutral and a generally Good Guy, James Marsden himself has even been the target of some pretty fixated vitriol for the mere crime of playing a guy with terrible timing. In 2015, he told Vulture that both members of Team Lon and Team Noah come up to him with varying levels of adoration or loathing: “They’re just disgusted by me. Like, ‘How dare you get involved with their love? You are the asshole in that movie.’ I’m like, ‘How is he an asshole?’” It’s a trick question, because he is not, something that this Broadway musical could set straight. Give James Marsden his peace!
Lon’s wholesomeness makes him a particularly interesting sort of obstacle; it is, after all, not his fault that he fell in love with the pretty nurse who took care of him. “Lon is great because he is a handsome, hardworking, good-natured, slightly boring man, a.k.a. the perfect husband,” my colleague Hayley Schueneman told me.
And sure, yes, Noah is a bird because Allie is a bird and they get married and fight some more and have a big old family together. Her life with Lon, however, would have likely been … dare I say healthier? “I think Allie is flighty and impulsive and Lon grounds her, whereas she and Noah are just a big passionate fuckfest, which is absolutely FINE, but only enjoyable in cinematic form and not real life,” Hayley adds. “The constant will-they-or-won’t-they relationships stress me out — Big and Carrie, Ross and Rachel — and I always just think the women in these relationships deserve much better men.”
You can’t tell Allie Hamilton who she can love, but you also can’t throw James Marsden away like that (though basically every movie he has been in has done just that). Lon deserves his redemption. Lon deserved better.