I didn’t realize Nights in Rodanthe was a Nicholas Sparks movie until about ten minutes in, which is relevant because I’d sworn off his empire years ago when my brother tricked me into watching A Walk to Remember. (He was a big Mandy Moore fan.) That same summer, I also had the misfortune of picking up one of the author’s mawkish novels while stranded at work. The brazen sentimentality was too much, and I’ve successfully avoided them ever since. That is until my limited Hong Kong Netflix catalog suggested this gem.
Nights is a handsome film shot on location along the North Carolina coast. Imagine haunting beach houses propped on weathered stilts and wide piers that stretch impossibly far into the water, a stubborn dare to the sea. The outskirts of Rodanthe, a real town, is a place I think Eastern elites might retire to in the summer, and by that measure, the film’s two leads, Diane Lane and Richard Gere, blend effortlessly into the picture. They have the breezy beauty of Ralph Lauren models and might be recreating an advert when they stroll along the beach hand-in-hand, their trousers rolled mid-calf.
This elegant packaging lifts the movie your average Hallmark program, but the dry and at times embarrassing script puts it in line with similar television fare. Lane gives a wonderfully restrained performance as Adrienne, a woman whose cheating husband (Christopher Meloni) wants to reconcile. She considers while housesitting for her friend’s (Viola Davis) B&B. Gere plays Paul, the only guest and a frustrated doctor who is in town to meet with the husband (Scott Glenn) of a deceased patient. His part is less showy, which works in the actor’s favor since his expressions only switch between charming and forlorn.
It’s hard to blame him though since the script also has its characters leaping between emotional extremes. Adrienne and Paul’s casual first dinner promises a seductive dance, which I wanted and was prepared for. Here is a movie waving the banner not just for sex between adults of a certain age but for their deep emotional bond. It’s unusual for portraying what should be remarkably normal, that is middle-aged adults confronting regrets – in marriage, in parenthood, in professional lives – and contemplating new starts. For the short time that they are together though, they alternately steal tender glances and erupt with the fury of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Inconsistency in character is at least offset by consistency in tone, a very saccharine one. If you like it when a guy comments on the beauty of a natural landscape and then observes that “nothing can compete with the peaks and valleys I traced along your body,” then this movie is for you. But hokey lines make my eyes roll around like pinballs. I don’t want ruminations on how crafting beautiful objects out of ugly driftwood is a metaphor for life. It’s the kind of stuff Nicholas Sparks offers up best though, and hopefully I’m good for another decade.
Prod: Denise Di Novi
Dir: George C. Wolfe
Writer: Ann Peacock, John Romano
Cast: Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Scott Glenn, James Franco, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis
Time: 97 min
Country: United States