Nights in Rodanthe (2008) / Romance-Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sensuality
Running time: 97 min

Cast: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, James Franco, Viola Davis, Christopher Meloni, Mae Whitman, Scott Glenn, Pablo Schreiber, Charlie Tahan
Director: George C. Wolfe

Screenplay: Ann Peacock, John Romano (based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks)
Review published October 17, 2008

Richard Gere Diane LaneThe adaptations of the novels by Nicholas Sparks (A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle) are definitely not to every taste.  For every fan who revisits each film time and again and never fails to shed a tear there is a detractor who shuts them off long before the ending, unable to take the sticky sentimentality which coats nearly every scene.  With the exception of The Notebook, which itself is not universally lauded, I've been largely averse to the allure of shamelessly embracing romance for romance's sake.  For the sake of entertainment purposes, I try to come into the film with an open mind, particularly to the possibilities of love and its transcendent nature to those smitten by it.  However, often times, a pure romance such as Nights in Rodanthe loses my interest, for the simple reason that the creators assume we're in love with love, regardless of whether or not the characters actually exhibit any feelings of attraction or even lust to justify their actions.

Diane Lane (Jumper, Untraceable) stars as Adrienne Willis, mother of two, freshly separated from her longtime, but philandering husband (Meloni, Harold & Kumar 2).  She gets away from the complications that have arisen by consenting to care for a friend's bed-and-breakfast on the shores of the nearby North Carolina island beach community, Rodanthe.  This being storm season, there aren't any guests -- save one.  A wayward doctor, Paul Flanner (Gere, Shall We Dance), stops in for a few days, needing some R&R himself after a tragic loss of a patient who came in for a simple cosmetic procedure.  Both are tied in knots emotionally from their respective ordeals, but they find solace in each other, eventually leading to feelings between them that help each other in the healing process.  However, with Flanner in the midst of a potential lawsuit from the patient's grieving husband (Glenn, The Bourne Ultimatum) and his impending departure out of the country, hurdles are still present that leave the two lovebirds feeling as though their happiness together is only the beginnings of something that may never be.

Nights in Rodanthe works better as a "romantic getaway" travelogue than it ever does as a true-blue romantic drama.  It's difficult not to be swept away by the allure of a house on the rolling waves of a sparsely populated island, especially as much more time has been spent in getting the aesthetic attraction of the interior design of the inn just right.  Gere is lavishly bathed in blue tints around him (he stays in the blue room, perhaps to further accentuate his sadness), while little knick-knacks and trinkets adorn nearly every square foot of the rest of the establishment.  Even if you find yourself uninterested in the would-be romance between two middle-aged late bloomers, if you have any inkling of amateur decorator in you, you'll probably find the film fascinating, albeit on a completely tangential level.

I think that if Nights in Rodanthe works at all, it is only if you are already fans of Gere and Lane, enough to want to see them get together, regardless of the storyline.  The two actors reunite for the third time, after The Cotton Club and Unfaithful, so if you like her, and you think it would be great if she ended up with a wealthy and handsome humanitarian doctor, this is the kind of film you'll probably relish. 

Alas, if you approach this without any preconceptions, the film just doesn't work.  There is very little depth to the characterizations, as Gere and Lane manage to just be attractive placeholders, unable to breathe life into roles that have very little history or nuance beyond anything we ever see on the screen.  Perhaps it's easier to indulge in a romantic fantasy in an overlooked hideaway when both parties are detached from anything else to snap them back to reality, but with us along for the ride, we can see all too clearly that their supposed love story is built on a cloud of wanting to forget themselves completely. 

There isn't a great deal of soul searching to be found, as the duo share banal conversations over wine and lavish food presentations.  They cuddle, they dance, they walk on the beach -- no base is left untouched in the Hallmark card sentimentality department.  It's all very bland in the writing department, but too innocuous to hate outright just on that alone.  What ultimately makes the film nearly unbearable is the horrible editing that occur throughout.  I've grown accustomed to seeing bad action film directors make a cut every two seconds, but never have I seen so many in a drama.  I'd say the majority of shots in the film last no more than two seconds, which, in a film that should be lush and serene, can make it quite distancing, especially if you're someone who notices film flubs as much as I do (scenes of eating have the participants' hands in different places from shot to shot.)

As poorly presented as the film is, the story, if one can call this one, doesn't take a nosedive until it overreaches in two key scenes.  One scene sees Adrienne and Paul traumatized by the wind and water battering the house during a giant storm.  Of course, we all anticipate this event will lead to their finally coming to grips with their sexual tension, and it doesn't let us down.  However, the scene just feels so completely manufactured, and it goes on far longer than necessary.  The other section that fails, which I won't go into with great detail, comes during the film's final moments, when we're given the typical Sparks tearjerker elements that are supposed to overcome us with emotion.  Sadly, these moments couldn't be any limper, as we never quite see these characters as anything other than shells for Gere and Lane to play make-believe, and the manipulative way they are delivered doesn't jibe with any reality that I've ever known, seemingly pulled right out of a dreary romance novel (which it is.)

Nights in Rodanthe is probably only worth a recommendation to the die-hard romance crowd, the ones known to be glued to their favorite soaps, reading their favorite steamy novel before bedtime, and who occasionally shed a tear watching a sappy commercial.  Romances usually get a hard time from movie critics, who generally deride them for being mostly fluff and little substance.  However, I do enjoy a good romance, and I do like to feel that two people actually can overcome adversity to find a love that is palpable to me as I sit in my seat.  I'm one of few reviewers to actually criticize Brokeback Mountain, of which I am on its side intellectually, as the stock characterizations and schmaltzy delivery left me emotionally distant   If I can't buy that the two lovers are actually in love, the movie doesn't succeed.  In Nights in Rodanthe, all I see are two attractive actors doing their best to give hollow characters some sort of emotional core that never quite takes root, as the writing is barren of honest conversations, and the impatient direction steamrolls over the enchanting and illusory qualities of falling in love.  

 Qwipster's rating:

©2008 Vince Leo