There’s no getting around the three-hanky, tearjerker appeal of Nights in Rodanthe, or the fact that the film is mere months away from a big debut on Lifetime. But make no mistake: This is a solid drama with quality performances and a story that never feels forced. Given that the movie’s goal is to make you cry, that’s a huge compliment.
Diane Lane (Untraceable) is Adrienne, a mother of two whose philandering husband (Christopher Meloni) wants to get back together. Unsure of what to do, she sojourns to the Carolina shore for the weekend to look after her friend Jeanie’s (Viola Davis) inn, where the only expected guest is a surgeon named Paul (Richard Gere).
Dr. Paul has issues of his own. He hasn’t spoken to his son (James Franco) in a year, and recently had a woman (Linda Molloy) die during surgery through no fault of his own. He’s going to the shore because the woman’s husband, Robert (Scott Glenn), asked him to explain what happened.
If you’re expecting love at first sight between Adrienne and Paul, don’t. Their first meeting is cordial but rather cold, largely because they are determined to sulk in their loneliness all weekend. To their credit, writers Ann Peacock and John Romano (based on a novel by The Notebook author Nicholas Sparks) structure the story so Adrienne and Paul fall in love as they help one another through their personal dilemmas, which means it happens naturally and convincingly. (And if you think I just ruined the movie, you obviously A) have not seen the trailer or B) know nothing about movies.)
Lane and Gere still have the chemistry they shared in Unfaithful (2002), and director George C. Wolfe keeps the excessive melodrama to a minimum while moving things along at a brisk pace of 97 minutes. The film’s biggest problem is the subplot with Robert and his deceased wife, which feels extraneous and unnecessary. Paul’s heartache over his long-lost son is more than enough emotional weight, and the payoff it offers far exceeds the underwhelming and brief climax between Paul and Robert. If you need an excuse for Paul to venture out to the inn, it could simply be a weekend getaway from his troubles.
With the Sex and the City girls sipping cosmos to the tune of more than $150 million over the summer, one might think Nights in Rodanthe is prime to benefit from an invigorated market for a “women’s film.” But Sex had a strong television following who waited four years to see the vixens again, while Nights has only moderate star appeal and little advance buzz. If the so-called “women’s film” is going to catch on, good films such as Nights need to be seen in theaters and attain a level of box office success that demands more of its kind be made. Until then, don’t be surprised to see a multiplex full of comic book adaptations.
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE (3) Directed by George C. Wolfe. • Starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. • PG-13, 97 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Lighthouse Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.