Nights in Rodanthe (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Nights in Rodanthe Poster

I can kind-of, sort-of see how this story might work as a novel. Bad dialogue doesn't sound as howlingly awful when not spoken aloud. Idiotic plot contrivances don't seem as painful and obvious. A love affair depends only on the spell woven by the author's words and isn't subject to the whims of flat performances, lifeless direction, and a script that rushes through key moments. Not having read the book, I can't say anything for certain about the magic (or lack thereof) of what Nicholas Sparks wrought with Nights in Rodanthe. About the movie, however, I can comment, and what ends up on screen is nothing short of a travesty.

The film follows two damaged individuals to a North Carolina barrier island inn in advance of a late-season hurricane. Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) is there as a guest, preparing to meet with the husband of a woman who died under his care in surgery. Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane), who is temporarily running the inn for a friend (Viola Davis), is spending some time away from her two kids (Mae Whitman, Charlie Tahan) and ex-husband (Christopher Merloni). As the hurricane draws nearer, so too do Paul and Adrienne until, in the wake of what can only be called a pathetic storm surge, they fall into each other's arms.

Romantic movies are a lot like breakfast cereal. Some are light and crisp with a little sweetness. Others taste like they have been left sitting in sour milk for days and have the consistency and flavor of rancid oatmeal. Place Nights in Rodanthe in that category. It's not just that the plot is entirely a by-the-numbers affair - many (if not most) romances are pure formula, yet they bring an intangible to the proceedings that is entirely absent here. The central fault is that the characters don't seem real. Their romance is a contrivance, not the kind of thing viewers take to heart. And the dialogue is some of the worst to be spoken in any 2008 movie. During one passage of purple prose, the audience broke into hoots of derisive laughter. As in any movie of this sort, if one doesn't care about the characters, there's no investment in their relationship and the entire production seems like a waste of time and effort.

This is the third pairing of Richard Gere and Diane Lane, following The Cotton Club and Unfaithful. As in the former movie, they are lovers, but this time they're a quarter century older and wiser. It's easy to understand why Hollywood likes these two together - they are photogenic. In Nights in Rodanthe, however, that's about all they are. Neither invests much in their character, and displays of acting are restricted to looking sad-eyed and producing tears. (Lane more so than Gere, although he gets his share, as well - if only to show how sensitive he is.)

This is the feature debut of director George C. Wolfe, and his inexperience shows. There are some basic, annoying technical errors, such as in the depiction of the hurricane (which, in reality, would have taken the little ocean-front inn out to sea or, at the very least, flooded the cars parked about two feet from the high tide mark). A critical aspect of the film's third act, which relies on written correspondence, is turned into a muddled montage. And Wolfe is unable to provide any sense of life or passion in a story that desperately needs this to rescue it from the grip of self-parody into which it frequently slips. I approached Nights in Rodanthe with the expectation that it was a serious film. Had I expected a comedy, however, I might have gotten more from the experience. Most of the laughs are unintentional, but the result is absurd and laughable. I will admit a certain fondness for two previous Sparks' adaptations, Message in a Bottle and The Notebook, but this isn't in the same league. Nights in Rodanthe is only for those who don't care about true movie romance, as long as people are going through the motions.

Nights in Rodanthe (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2008-09-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1