September 25, 2008

Nights in Rodanthe

This is how we say 'Hi' in Tibet

Grade: C +

Director: George C. Wolfe

Starring: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Christopher Meloni, Scott Glenn, and Viola Davis

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Ah, so THIS is what North Carolina’s coastline looks like on film.

As a lifelong resident of the Tar Heel State, it is difficult to maintain complete objectivity in reviewing a film like Nights in Rodanthe. When two of Nicholas Sparks’ novels were previously adapted for the big-screen, the Low Country of South Carolina substituted for the Cape Fear region of North Carolina in The Notebook, and makers of Message in a Bottle tried to pass off the coast of Maine as Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Perhaps Sparks, a longtime resident of New Bern, has finally achieved a level of creative control over the cinematic adaptations of his novels. Regardless of the reason, the opening scenes of Nights in Rodanthe play like a mini-travelogue for those familiar with the journey from the capital city to its crystal coast. It begins with a shot of the Raleigh skyline as Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) leaves town after closing the sale of his former home. Images then fly by of sundry exit signs along I-40, the immense Hwy. 17 bypass around New Bern, and several bridges traversing the Intercoastal Waterway.

His trip ends at an oceanfront inn on Hatteras Island in the tiny Village of Rodanthe, the easternmost point in the state. [Filming took place on-location in Rodanthe, with an actual rental house named Serendipity doubling as the inn. Presently, there are no actual inns or hotels operating in Rodanthe, although some shrewd entrepreneur is probably thinking about opening one to capitalize on this film’s potential popularity.] Paul, divorced and estranged from his adult son (James Franco), comes to Rodanthe to make amends with a family who is suing him for medical malpractice. Tending the inn is Adrienne (Diane Lane), herself torn over whether to reunite with her estranged husband (Christopher Meloni) after he walked out on her and their children 7 months ago.

This is Gere and Lane's third onscreen coupling, following The Cotton Club and Unfaithful, and they exude a palpable chemistry that carries the treacly script through many lulls. And, Gere’s presence sates the appetite of a film’s target audience every time they glimpse that feathered coif and trademark twinkle in his eye. Nevertheless, Gere strikes the wrong note as a man purportedly racked with personal and emotional guilt; Paul always seems more intent on charming the pants off the woman in the room than exorcising his personal demons. Contrast that with Scott Glenn, who, as the reticent widower whose wife died on Paul’s operating table, expresses more raw emotion in under 5 minutes of screen-time than Gere does over the entire film.

Indeed, the storyline itself navigates few uncharted waters, wallowing principally in meet-cute treacle - Paul and Adrienne's surrender to passion whilst a hurricane nearly rips apart the inn is a silly sequence worsened by director George C. Wolfe's jump-cut editing. The script marks time between longing gazes and manufactured melodrama – the storyline feels padded even at a relatively svelte 97 minutes – until the time comes to deploy the typical tear-jerking Sparks climax.

Mostly, however, the plot itself is merely background noise for a visual ode that also conspicuously incorporates such local delicacies as pirate lore, indigenous music, and wild horses that roam the northern Outer Banks. Sparks might peddle in pap, but it’s our pap, dagnabit. Nights in Rodanthe: come for the movie, stay for the view.

Neil Morris

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