The Good: Moments of acting (mostly at the end), Message, Cinematography
The Bad: Terribly obvious plot, Characters that make no sense, Bland acting, Overbearing soundtrack
The Basics: One of the most obvious romantic dramas in years, Nights In Rodanthe is plagued by cliches and awful dialogue that encourages melodrama.
Tonight I am in envy of Roger Ebert. There is a man who has seen more movies than I have and he still seems to love the medium. I mean, there are still movies I love, but as far as the history of films goes, there are so many conceits that have already been done ad nauseam. But there are great movies, like Casablanca (reviewed here!), that when they begin anything can happen. Seriously, with the opening of Casablanca, there are about a million ways the film could go.
Then there are movies like Nights In Rodanthe, which very quickly becomes a movie that will end one of two ways. By the end of the opening credits to Nights In Rodanthe, the viewer can narrow the movie down to: Adrienne (played by Diane Lane) either will go back to her husband or she won't. She will be with Paul or she won't. Technically, I suppose that's three options. But by the end of the opening credits, the movie is down to those options and how we get there becomes so tedious that now that I have returned from a screening I am absolutely baffled that the film was only ninety-seven minutes long. Seriously, the most fun I had tonight at the movies was in tormenting the two 10th grade girls who sat beside me by asking them to come up with the name of an author (it took them ten minutes - no kidding! - and they came up with Shakespeare and they had to ask someone nearby what his first name was, a terrible statement on the education system in the U.S. made even worse by the fact that they are currently reading "that play with the witches" [that being The Tragedy Of MacBeth]). My point here is that my dismay in the utterly laughable ignorance of the girls next to me was the high point.
Nights In Rodanthe is based upon a novel by Nicholas Sparks, whose cinematic adaptations include The Notebook (reviewed here!) and The Lucky One (reviewed here!). As my usual caveat, this is a review of the film presented, not of the book. That said . . .
Adrienne is a married woman who wakes up alone to send her children off to Orlando with her estranged husband, Jack. Jack ambushes Adrienne by letting her know that he wants to come home. Seven months after leaving, he is ready to work things out and he pressures her to come with him and the children on vacation to reconnect with him. Adrienne, however, promised her friend Jean that she would look after her inn, the Rodanthe, and she leaves to tend the inn and its lone patron, the dour Dr. Paul Flanner.
Flanner, it turns out, is in town because one of the locals is suing him because his wife died on Flanner's operating table. As a hurricane approaches, Adrienne and Paul find themselves growing together mostly because of proximity and yelling at one another until they fall in love and the inevitable resolution comes.
Nights In Rodanthe is absolutely agonizing to watch and frankly by the time it became engaging enough to be interesting, I had long since stopped caring. The film defied my early expectations only in that the first scene I anticipated would end with a kiss did not. Instead, the first kiss between Paul and Adrienne is delayed a scene. But other things, such as Adrienne's daughter Amanda slamming the door after storming off upstairs came exactly on cue, as did the ultimate resolution at the Rodanthe.
As I left the theater, one of the other viewers commented eagerly to another that "Wow, he sure can write them!" I beg to differ. I assume she was talking about Nicholas Sparks or in this case Ann Peacock and John Romano, who adapted the novel for a screenplay, but perhaps my standards are far too high. I did seem to be one of the few people who looked disappointed walking out of the theater, but the college aged woman on my left looked bored through most of it, so I didn't feel alone during the film. Ahhh, but the writing. The dialogue in this film is so terrible in its level of melodrama that one wonders if Nicholas Sparks is simply a pseudonym for a fourth grade girl. Seriously, much of the dialogue between Adrienne and Paul is expressed in angry, over-the-top cliches that are the staple of young writer dialogue.
Perhaps the reason Nights In Rodanthe suffers so much under my pen is because it was simply packed with all of the most predictable and boring conceits. There is overbearing music throughout the film to accent the important emotional moments by completely attempting to dictate what the viewer feels. This is especially noticeable in the opening shots of the inn where the music swells for dramatic appreciation. At her first opportunity, Adrienne goes through Paul's personal affects in his room. Why? Because that's what people do when they are alone, we are meant to believe.
We are meant to believe that much the same way we are expected to buy yet another romance where the prime motivation is simply two adults who are alone together. Paul and Adrienne have absolutely no sexual chemistry upon meeting, but it's that type of movie so within fifteen minutes they have begun shedding their pain, condescendingly judging one another and bonding. Perhaps even worse is how Jean and Adrienne speak when talking with one another. Their dialogue is dumb and girly, a parody of high school chicks that is entirely unrealistic for women of their ages and places in life. Again, it is all cliches.
And as bad as that assumption that just because two people are alone they will bond is the age old conceit that alcohol will solve virtually everything. I'm so tired of these boring conceits! Woman and man together in a house, they'll end up together. There will be a scene where they drown their sorrows with alcohol and usually, this will lead to some form of physical contact. It's that type of movie. The only remotely interesting aspect of this in Nights In Rodanthe is that (presumably to get the PG-13 rating) the actual drinking is edited out. Adrienne picks up a shot, prepares to drink it, the film cuts to Paul and when we see her next, she is removing the emptied shot glass from her lips . . . Hard not to love that wacky MPAA.
Finally, in the storm that inevitably comes, the emotions that Paul and Adrienne go through are so forced. Just as most of the dialogue is offensively simple, the range of emotions and the predictability that Paul will end up holding Adrienne is just gagworthy. The reason this is so bad is because the movie defies the characters within. Adrienne states that she admires her daughter, Amanda, because of how she speaks her mind, yet within a day, Adrienne is yelling at Paul and expressing herself in criticizing him on how he lives his life. Similarly, Paul is detached, estranged from his son and annoyingly does not close the door behind him when he first enters the inn (who does that?!), yet suddenly becomes the fountain of wisdom for how Adrienne can fix her life.
The problems extend from the characters who make little or no sense through to the acting. Richard Gere plays affectless remarkably well in Paul's establishing scenes but he smirks through his deep expository scenes. There's something unsettling about watching Richard Gere churn out lamentful dialogue with a subtle smirk in his eyes and a smile on his face. People don't - usually - smile when they lament things!
On the other hand, it was wonderful to see James Franco, who pops up as Paul's son. Equally good is Mae Whitman as Amanda. I had seen Whitman before in Arrested Development (reviewed here!) as the bland Ann Veal. Whitman is impressive as Amanda in that she is so annoying as the teenage daughter that she is utterly convincing for a girl of the age she portrays. As well, long, long after I stopped caring, Whitman delivers a performance in the final fifteen minutes that illustrates some real depth of understanding of the human condition and the mindset of her character. She's amazing; it's too bad so much of her role is so annoying. Other decent acting comes from Christopher Meloni in his brief role.
But much of the film hinges on the performance of Diane Lane as Adrienne. I had only seen Lane before in Under The Tuscan Sun (reviewed here!) and there was little in the first three-quarters of Nights In Rodanthe that illustrated any talent I had not already seen from her in that. For most of the movie, she simply seems well-cast or like she is acting like one might think Annette Bening would in the same role. But then, in the last fifteen minutes, she pulls out the stops and gives a very deep and real performance.
But by then, who cares?
There are serious problems with Nights In Rodanthe, not the least of which is a candle lit in a room no one has been in before Paul and Adrienne go up to it, but mostly the movie suffers because the characters are boring, poorly presented, and walking through the motions of a terribly predictable plot with dialogue that is largely cliches. There is a decent movie in the story here, but it comes in the last fifteen minutes or is given simply as a story. One whole movie could have been done based on the way the film resolves itself and been a beautiful character study. The other movie that would have been great to see would have been one based upon the story X tells Paul about his wife. That is an actual love story by the sound of it. But it is something the viewer is simply told.
Outside the magnificent acting in the very final act, the movie has decent cinematography. It's still not enough to recommend seeing this movie. There are far better romance stories on film. This one . . . will disappoint those who love movies, at the very least.
For other films featuring Christopher Meloni, please check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season 5
NYPD Blue - Season 4
For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.
© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |