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 V.17 No.39 | September 25 - October 1, 2008 

Film Review

Nights in Rodanthe

Sparks’ romance serves up the schmaltz, North Carolina-style

“I hope you like Hamwinkies.”
“I hope you like Hamwinkies.”

Nights in Rodanthe

Directed by George C. Wolfe

Cast: Richard Gere, Diane Lane

I’ve always liked Diane Lane (A Little Romance; Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains; Rumble Fish; Streets of Fire: all good stuff in my book). After a long, largely indifferent period (King David, Pretty Woman, Intersection, First Knight, Autumn in New York), I’ve grown somewhat more appreciative of Richard Gere (Chicago, The Hoax, The Hunting Party, I’m Not There). He’s one of those people (like Sean Connery) upon whom age looks better than youth. At 59, he also nearly outgrown his romantic leading man phase, taking on more interesting roles and sparing us the theoretical horror of Runaway Bride 2. Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook), I’ve never had the slightest interest in. What Thomas Kinkade is to painters, what Anne Geddes is to photographers, Nicholas Sparks is to writers--a pandering populist peddler of easy sentiment.

“This is the best prom date ever.”
“This is the best prom date ever.”

Admittedly, I’m not the target demographic for Nicholas Sparks novels. Therefore, I’m not the intended audience for Nights in Rodanthe, the newest cinematic adaptation of Sparks’ quickly digested romances--this one starring the above-mentioned Diane Lane and Richard Gere. My opinion must therefore be treated with a big fat grain of salt. Because there are a whole lot of white, upper-middle-class women in the late-40s/early-50s range undoubtedly eager to luxuriate in the cozy atmosphere of yet another Sparks tale of love and lachrymation.

This one takes place in North Carolina’s Outer Banks (a favored Sparks location), where fortysomething wife and mother Adrienne Willis (Lane) has gone to watch over her best pal’s beachfront rooming house in the off-season. As it turns out, this is just an excuse to get away from her estranged, cheating-yet-needy hubby and contemplate her future over a nice mug of herbal tea. Intruding on all this introspection is houseguest Paul Flanner (Gere), a divorced Atlanta doctor toting around his own suitcase full of secret hurt and shame.

To its credit (or detriment, depending on how you approach it), Nights in Rodanthe is a very mature film. It’s a one-and-a-half hankie weeper for grown-ups, a PG-13-rated romance between people in conservative sweaters and brown suede jackets. Adrienne and Paul get slightly tipsy on red wine, dance to old vinyl LPs and make out during a hurricane (how passionately symbolic of them). The waves roll in, the sunsets look lovely, Emmylou Harris sings the theme song. Eventually, their time together ends and our characters spend the final third of the film writing demure-yet-intimate love letters to one another, which are read endlessly in voice-over. It’s like a hot-and-heavy version of Ken Burns’ The Civil War. For women of a certain age who enjoy a good chintz wallpaper pattern as much as they enjoy a comedy of remarriage, this is like freakin’ catnip. For others, it’s like watching paint dry--melodramatic and occasionally hysterical paint.

Gere and Lane (reunited from the somewhat sweatier Unfaithful and the long-forgotten Cotton Club) are probably perfect for this assignment. Lane, with her curvy body and finely crinkling eyes, radiates a savvy, lived-in sexuality. Gere--all salt-and-pepper hair and sad puppy expression--looks like a baby boomer pinup model, ready to inspire hot flashes in empty nesters throughout suburbia. Together, they’re a likable pair. It’s easy to root for them. But it’s hard to judge just how satisfying Nights in Rodanthe really is. The film is little more than one long, claustrophobic falling-in-love montage followed by a cheap shot ending intended to blindside viewers and knock the stuffing out of their emotions. Manipulative? Yes. Schmaltzy? Absolutely. Pure Nicholas Sparks? Undoubtedly.



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