Can one weekend change a life?
Diane Lane and Richard Gere worked so well together in 2002's "Unfaithful" that Warner Bros. decided to pair them up in 2008's "Nights in Rodanthe." The actors once again work well together, but they should have quit when they were ahead. This time out they haven't got the script to go with their talents.
Director George C. Wolfe made his big-screen directorial debut with "Nights in Rodanthe" after success as a Broadway producer-director and doing several television productions. Screenwriters Ann Peacock and John Romano based their screenplay for the movie on a novel by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, who previously provided Hollywood with "Message in a Bottle," "A Walk to Remember," and "The Notebook." One has to wonder if anyone besides Sparks is still writing romance novels or if Hollywood is looking to any other author for romantic material.
Lane plays a divorced woman, Adrienne Willis, with a teenaged daughter and a ten-year-old son. Her ex-husband, Jack (Christopher Meloni), wants to get back together with her, but Adrienne cannot forgive his infidelity. She has devoted her life to her husband and children and now feels betrayed by his unfaithfulness. To compound matters, her daughter hates her for not allowing the father to return to the fold, and the son finds himself bewildered by it all.
Gere plays Dr. Paul Flanner, a divorced surgeon who has even more problems than Adrienne. He always put his career ahead of his family, one of his female patients accidentally died in a surgery he was performing on her, he's being sued by the woman's husband (Scott Glenn), his wife has left him, and his grown son (James Franco), also a doctor, hates him. Whew!
Coincidentally, both Adrienne and Paul wind up in the same isolated inn together in Rodanthe, a small town on the North Carolina coast. She is taking care of the inn for a friend (Viola Davis), and at the moment Paul is the only guest.
Misery loves comfort, I suppose, because Adrienne and Paul quickly find they have a lot in common in terms of personal issues and just as quickly fall into one another's arms.
Frankly, that's about it, except for the ending, which I'll get to in a moment. The story moves along like a two-person filmed stage play. Lane and Gere are in practically every scene together after the initial exposition, and there is only so much a viewer can stand of their empty talk. This is Nicholas Sparks, after all, not Eugene O'Neill, and it's "Nights in Rodanthe," not "Long Day's Journey into Night." So we can see what's coming at least two hankies ahead of time.
Yes, it's good to see a straight romantic movie that involves mature people for a change instead of endless, witless romantic comedies about twenty-year-olds. But a good romance has to have substance, too, or there's not a lot of reason for it beyond fulfilling some basic need for potboilers. Here, we get a man who loves Dinah Washington songs, a woman with an old phonograph and even older LPs, and a fairy-tale inn that looks like something out of "Lemony Snicket." It's that kind of movie.
To punctuate the couple's dilemmas, the author throws in a hurricane, which seems severe enough to have blown the whole house down but doesn't. From there, the story gets increasingly passionate, melodramatic, and, finally, maudlin.
The "finally" is the ending, which makes you go "Ah, come on!" It is as unlikely an event as you'll ever come across, and the author clearly intended it only as a manipulative plot device. If the rest of the film simply bores you, the ending will infuriate you. Come on, Sparks; you're better than that.
Up until its conclusion, "Nights in Rodanthe" is a reasonably romantic story that just happens to make for a mediocre film. It resembles more and more a soap opera as it goes along and then does something unforgivable at the close.
Loved "The Notebook"; could have done without "Nights."
Warners offer the film in two screen formats, standard full-screen and widescreen. The full-screen is primarily a pan-and-scan affair, although it does exhibit a little more image at the top and bottom of the screen than the widescreen does. The widescreen displays the film's original 2.40:1 ratio and provides about 40% more information left and right. As there is nothing about the image or the colors that jumps off the screen, it's hard to judge the definition or colors. The image is most often intentionally soft and pale, so the movie is not exactly a visual delight. Some bright outdoor shots show us how well the picture can be under the right conditions, which is good by SD standards. Primarily, however, the director focuses on indoor locations and relatively dim lighting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track doesn't have a whole lot to do. There is a storm about halfway through the movie where rain, wind, and thunder roar all around us, the deep bass bursts forth with authority, and a few dynamic jolts practically knock the walls of one's listening room down. Mainly, though, it reproduces voices nicely, which is what the film is all about.
If you want any extras, you'll have to get the Blu-ray edition. This DVD contains almost nothing in the way of bonus materials. There are twenty-five scene selections; the two screen formats I mentioned; some trailers and promos at start-up only; access to a digital copy of the film, Windows Media-compatible only, not compatible with Apple Macintosh and iPod devices; English, French, Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
We've all come to expect a goodly amount of sentimentality in a love story; it comes with the territory. It's just that "Nights in Rodanthe" lays it on so thick, you'd think the author had written it for folks who had never read or seen another romance before. If you like the actors, you'll probably like the movie for Lane and Gere alone. It's a shame they didn't have more to work with.