Nights in Rodanthe (2008)


Director: George C. Wolfe

Thankfully having never staged an intervention before, I’m unaware on how one would begin, save for what I’ve seen onscreen where the unsuspecting “target” (or “subject” to be more politically correct) is invited to someone’s neutral location like a living room and prevented to leave before their friends and relatives have spoken their mind regarding the subject’s destructive behavior. Above all, it’s about making the subject realize that it’s time to change and/or seek help… or at least, that’s how it goes down on television. My problem is, having never met the author Nicholas Sparks, I doubt I could somehow finagle him into meeting me—and several readers and viewers—at a neutral location without alarming the poor man and becoming the target of authorities so the next best thing I have is the internet. Thus, we have with this unorthodox review a.k.a an open intervention for Mr. Sparks.

While the remarkable beauty of his work is undisputed and I especially loved his earlier offerings like The Notebook and Message in a Bottle, finally I had to stop reading. And this was not just because they were growing increasingly easy to predict as they all concern a great, passionate love wherein one character dies not to mention that universal equalizer of karma kicks in to kill off a character who has dared to love again after tragic events but also because they’re just so damned depressing.

I realize the cathartic need and justification in literature for depressing works of art—hell, my favorite novel is The Great Gatsby after all and I pride myself on having read nearly every major American literary classic (and a great deal of ones from around the globe), several of which end horrifically. (Hello, Ethan Frome!) Yet, there’s just something unrelentingly manipulative and especially tragic about the literary offerings of Sparks.

And after discovering via his website the vast amount of tragedy the poor man has suffered in his own life and as someone who has experienced tragedy as well, I received a greater empathetic window into his world and understand that a major reason it’s a recurring theme in his oeuvre is because it’s most likely his way to de-stress and work through his own devastation and ups and downs. Although when I also learned he was a former pharmacist, I began wondering what would happen if he went on the happy pills for at least a month. And if drugs aren’t the answer as I don’t want to inflict the wrath of Tom Cruise—then what about the unceasing medicinal power of laughter, of injecting at least a few more pleasant surprises and humorous moments than merely the obligatory wisecracking best friend that the wasted Viola Davis plays in Nights in Rodanthe?

However, if not for his audience or for him, than I must ask from one writer to another-- doesn’t one of his characters deserve a happy ending? He cares enough about the lives he creates to post a poll to visitors on his site asking whom their favorite Sparks hero or heroine is but the poll would be far more rewarding if those same characters were given more than a fleeting chance at happiness and a swift kick into the harsh devastation of a Sparks finale.

Hey, and if for no other reason, maybe by throwing us a curve ball of a happy ending, the works would suddenly become much more addictive again since we’ve realized we can’t simply depend on the fact we’ll figure it out long before we hit the final page or frame in a film. After all, greatness isn’t measured by how many Kleenex you can sell but by the longevity of the works and let’s just say that—even as a lover of the women’s weepy films made by the late great Douglas Sirk in the 1950s-- I have absolutely no desire to ever read The Notebook nor see the film upon which it was based ever again.

I admit to having stopped reading a few years back so I could be misinformed and if so I apologize. However, simply judging by the cinematic adaptations and the reaction on the general population, it’s high time to put a mini-moratorium on the Dickensian finales, Mr. Sparks. For, by now, they are so easy to predict that a majority of us were able to guess the concluding death in his latest work to make it to the big screen in director George C. Wolfe and screenwriters Ann Peacock and John Romano’s Nights in Rodanthe just from the trailer alone (view the trailer).

To be fair, cinematically, this one is far superior to The Notebook. And while I did find myself—albeit trying to remain strong in the press section—shedding tears not once but three times throughout the duration, despite my accurate prediction of the finale and the obvious manipulation of the production, it benefits more than any of his other filmed versions simply because of its star Diane Lane.

In her finest performance since her Academy nominated turn in Unfaithful (also opposite Rodanthe’s Richard Gere), she plays the struggling mother Adrienne Willis. Still reeling from her beloved father’s death and a separation from her unfaithful husband Jack (Christopher Meloni) who had an affair with someone in her carpool, she packs her kids including her Harry Potter clone son Danny (Charlie Tahan) and rebellious goth girl Amanda (Mae Whitman) off to Orlando with her ex.

Wanting an escape-- even one that comes with a fair warning that hurricanes are in the forecast, Adrienne returns to the Outer Banks coastal town of Rodanthe, North Carolina to care for the inn of her friend, Jean (Viola Davis). Adrienne’s hurried preparations to leave her troubled, chaotic life behind her are interspersed with the same actions by the only guest paid up for four days in Rodanthe, Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) who, having sold his home, throws a duffel bag filled with Spanish/English medical texts into his sports car and drives off to Rodanthe to deal with a tragedy of his own.

Exquisitely photographed, the picturesque setting of Rodanthe is a character in its own right and none more so than the beautiful clapboard and blue shutter old inn by the sea, where rumor has it in the form of an old pirate legend, wild horses every so often can be seen running free on the sandy beach. Gee, do you think we see any?

While it’s awkward at first as Adrienne cooks, cleans and tends to her one guest, Paul breaks the ice on the first night by carrying his dinner into the kitchen to mingle with the lovely stranger over wine, Dinah Washington, and stories of their heartache.

The chemistry between Gere and Lane is phenomenal and it’s more than obvious to even the most casual viewer who was unfamiliar with the two or their shared history working together, how comfortable they are in each other’s company. Yet, this is both a plus and a minus in Rodanthe. They bond much too quickly as Adrienne begins unloading all of her baggage right from the get-go in a way that would send most men running and despite the power of wine, mood music, evening l’amour, and the right lighting, they click far too easily, seeming like old lovers rather than new tentative ones. And possibly it’s because of this that Gere never fully settles into his role-- maybe feeling as though (even subconsciously) that it’s a cinematic extension of their other work together and they’re just finishing a conversation begun in earlier movies.

However, enough cannot be said in favor of Lane who turns Sparks’ overly sentimental moments (and some extraordinarily tacky dialogue) into the stuff of Shakespeare and none more so than, near the end of the film in a scene following a conversation with James Franco when she not only cries (along with the rest of the audience for the ten millionth time) but tears into that crying jag authentically in a way that makes us feel not just guilty for watching but wishing we were there to comfort her in her obvious pain. That-- my friends-- is an actress, and Lane just keeps getting better and better with each passing year, despite the fact that her roles are getting fewer and far more predictable, in the unfair and ageist Hollywood system.

While the film could’ve benefited from sharper editing as it feels much, much, much longer than its ninety-seven minutes and you’ll need to come armed with Kleenex, cinematically it’s one of the better Sparks adaptations, and the reason is purely Lane. Although, as great as she is at making us cry, it would be far more pleasurable to once see her laugh. Nicholas Sparks are you listening? Or more importantly is your keyboard?

Read the Book
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