By Ted Faraone
Rated: PG-13 for some sensuality.
Release Date: 2008-09-26
Starring: Ann Peacock, John Romano, Nicholas Sparks (novela)
Official Website: http://nightsinrodanthe.warnerbros.com/
“Nights in Rodanthe” could have been a world class chick flick on the order of “Now Voyager.” It has everything going for it: Beautiful photography, a tear-jerker plot, and a great cast. Instead it barely makes the “Lifetime Original Movie” cut. The adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ eponymous novel (by Ann Peacock and John Romano) squeezes every moment of angst and despair until the audience cries “uncle.”
Diane Lane as Adrienne Willis, mother of two, separating from womanizing Jack (Chris Meloni), delivers a nuanced performance that aspires to Vanessa Redgrave’s territory. Richard Gere as middle-aged Dr. Paul Flanner neatly captures the emotional disconnection, impatience, and intellectual arrogance of many successful careerists. Viola Davis (Jean) as Adrienne’s sexy best friend steals her every scene. Lensing by Affonso Beato is top notch, and a hurricane, which marks pic’s turning point, is so real that one wants to run for higher ground.
A coincidence puts Adrienne and Paul together as sole residents of a beachfront inn on the island of Rodanthe on the outer banks of North Carolina. Adrienne gave up a promising career as an artist to marry Jack. Paul abandoned surgery after losing a patient on the table. He’s at the inn because of a summons to the island from the dead patient’s husband (Ted Manson). She’s there because she promised to spell Jean, who is off to Miami. His family has fallen apart. Hers is in danger of doing so. The pair fall for each other. Paul heads to South America to re-connect with his son, a physician, who runs a clinic for the poor – after a contrived emotional showdown with Adrienne over his handling of the widower.
The rest of the story is told through love letters and another contrived scene: Paul misses a dinner date with Adrienne on his return from South America. The next morning she answers her door to find Paul’s son (James Franco) with a box of his dad’s belongings. Franco’s voiceover of sepia tinted scenes of dad working with him in the mountain clinic (culminating in a fatal mudslide) could have ended the flick. Instead, it goes on for another agonizing reel, in which Adrienne’s despair is milked dry. Blame helmer George C. Wolfe and editor Brian A. Kates. Not even Lane can lift the platitudinous dénouement off the ground. All main characters are redeemed, but at what a cost! And it is borne by the audience.
But wait! There’s more! A final scene appears to have been tacked on in the interest of a happy ending. It is set up by a couple of script references to wild horses on Rodanthe. They appear not a moment too soon.
The 97 minute Warner Bros. release carries a PG-13 rating due to some sexual content.