Directed by: George C. Wolfe
Starring: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis, Scott Glenn, James Franco
Nights in Rodanthe never reaching the end ... no, wait, that’s something else. Still, there are moments in the final scenes of Rodanthe that certainly seem like they’ll never reach the end. No mean feat for a 97-minute movie. Nights in Rodanthe is soap, unalloyed 99 and 44/100 percent pure soap. And though it’s fairly classy soap—and while there’s nought wrong with soap—this one just misses the mark. It’s beautifully photographed, beautifully art directed, creatively directed and nicely acted. But then there’s the story, the screenplay and the musical score, which are far less happy considerations.
Let’s start with the story, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name. I’ve never read one of Sparks’ books, but after seeing the film versions of A Walk to Remember (2002), The Notebook (2004) and now this, I’m not planning on changing that. The stories and characters don’t in themselves engage me. And to the degree that any of these films have worked on me in the manner intended (i.e., as an assault on my tear ducts), it wasn’t through the material itself, but the innate appeal of some of the performers involved. That’s certainly true here. I didn’t give a damn about the principal characters, Adrienne Willis and Dr. Paul Flanner, who are nothing but ridiculous cardboard constructs. Their humanity—and the only emotional connection I had with them—stems from the innate sympathy I felt for the screen personas of the actors who play them, Diane Lane and Richard Gere.
The story is a nonsensical setup of more than passing preposterousness. Adrienne is a deserted wife with two children who are so obnoxious that a sane woman would trade them in for a pair of cast-iron lawn deer. Errant hubby—played with maximum smarminess by Christopher Meloni (TV’s Oz)—whines, pleads, wheedles and manipulates Adrienne in an attempt to be allowed to come home (maybe he should watch Fireproof for tips on how to mend a marriage?). Adrienne makes plans to go “inn sit” for her friend Jean (Viola Davis, Disturbia) on the Outer Banks—plans she sticks to despite the fact that there’s a threat of a hurricane and the inn in question is right on the beach. That she goes is remarkable enough. That her sole guest, Dr. Flanner, shows up is more remarkable still.
What follows is utterly predictable—that is until it goes all bittersweet and becomes utterly ridiculous. Everything is painfully set up and contrived (so when will those much-discussed wild ponies appear?), while almost none of it seems even passingly real. In its favor, however, the movie looks good and the stars are appealing. Director George C. Wolfe, best known for stage work, either surrounded himself with an ace crew, or is one of those stage directors who delights in the chances film affords to go beyond what’s possible on stage. Now, whether the look, the stars and the direction offset the story, the awkward dialogue and quite probably the worst musical score (by Jeanine Tesori) I’ve ever heard on a professionally made film (lots of pointless guitar and piano noodling that’s not even really music) is an issue you might want to debate carefully before committing to Nights in Rodanthe as your viewing choice. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality.