NIGHTS IN RODANTHE

PG-13

-By Frank Lovece


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It's the film of a Lifetime…cable network. So formulaic a TV-movie type of romance that it should come with commercial breaks, this adaptation of a hackwork novel by bestselling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) is one more middle-aged women's fantasy of being swept away by a dashing, longhaired stranger—who is also, of course, as our heroine's best friend makes sure to ascertain before any other quality, rich. Is there an audience for this kind of PG-13 romance-porn? Absolutely, just as there's an audience for Taco Bell "food." That doesn't mean either is right or good or that audiences don't have better alternatives. Put it this way: There are dramas about romance. And then there are romantic dramas.

In Nights in Rodanthe, Diane Lane plays Adrienne Willis, a hot if haggard mother of rebellious teen Amanda (Mae Whitman) and asthmatic youngster Danny (Charlie Tahan). She's separated from her straying husband, Jack (Christopher Meloni), who, seven months after toodling off with another woman, wants to come back home. Adrienne's instincts say no, but she wants to do whatever's best for her children, so she agrees to discuss it after Jack returns from a theme-park vacation with the kids and she herself returns from taking care of her best friend's (Viola Davis) bed-and-breakfast on the North Carolina Outer Banks.

There's not much to take care of: The only guest is Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a haunted, brooding surgeon from Raleigh who bears A Secret Sorrow—he's here at the seaside hamlet of Rodanthe to speak with a grieving man (Scott Glenn) whose wife died on the doc's operating table. Plus, Flanner's suffering from Guilt and Regret over Putting Career Before Family—specifically, his doctor son Mark (an uncredited James Franco), who's fled to practice in a remote Ecuadorian village. With a hurricane a'brewin' and emotions a'stirrin', the two wounded souls fall into each other's arms. Her breasts heave forcefully against his chest, as the sword of his manhood…sorry, sorry. You can dress up a Sparks book in hardcover all you want, but it's still a pandering Cinderella fantasy.

Shot in the actual town of Rodanthe, North Carolina, by the unlikely director George C. Wolfe—former artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater and the Tony Award-winning helmer of such serious, complex fare as Broadway's Angels in America—the film well captures the raw beauty of the isolated islands that help protect the mainland from the wild, shipwrecking mid-Atlantic ocean. Yet Wolfe too often retreats to an identical, overused shot for three of his actors here (and a similar shot for a fourth), filming them in a static extreme close-up in the left or right third of the widescreen frame. The repetition draws attention to itself, as do his frequent one-second-long inserts and crosscuts. And when the big storm hits the rattling old house, the sound editors must have all gone, "Hot damn! Oscar time!"

There's a staginess to much of this, forcing us to focus on the getting-to-know-you dialogue between two lonely people in a hurricane hothouse. And unfortunately, that dialogue ain't Shakespeare, brother. "It's all about choices, Adrienne," Flanner informs her at one particularly bludgeoning moment. At another moment he yells, "Ayyy-dreeee-annnnnn!!!" and I'm sorry, but after Rocky, no one in movies should shout, "Ayyy-dreeee-annnnnn!!!" anymore than they should shout, "Stellll-laaaahhhh!!!"

Add in the lack of chemistry between the two romantic leads, and I wouldn't send a dog out on Nights like this.



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