NIGHTS IN RODANTHE is perfectly calibrated to jerk tears with the precision of the atomic clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and with the irresistible insistence of an industrial grade milking machine. It is the quintessential romance novel come to life, beautifully acted and even more beautifully photographed, with leads, Diane Lane and Richard Gere, who are also beautiful. Plus, they have all he same chemistry that they shared in their previous joint effort, UNFAITHFUL, though here they have chosen material that is considerably more fluffy.
The story is spun from an exuberant tissue of clichés. Lane is Adrienne, a single mother, deserted by a straying husband (Christopher Meloni), and unappreciated by her two kids, the cute 10-year-old (Charlie Tahan) with bad asthma and even worse separation anxieties, and the teenager (Mae Whitman wearing way too much makeup) who hates her mother because all girls that age do. Gere is Paul, the doctor who was so dedicated to his career that he emotionally deserted his wife, son, and patients. Their paths cross when Adrienne fills in for her best pal, Jean (Viola Davis), who runs an inn that is perilously close to the shoreline of an island off the coast of North Carolina. It’s a quaint place, full of pricey knick-knacks, bad plumbing and romantic flourishes such as ruffles and crystal doodads hanging from vintage lamps. She’s also making peace with hubby’s unexpected plea to come back to her, which knocks her for a not entirely pleasant loop. Paul is there for a four-night stay to make peace with himself for the lifetime of wrong priorities. Two attractive and emotionally vulnerable people at an isolated inn with a hurricane brewing to externalize their inner turmoil and the stage is set for a blind date that will lead to predictable results. Just as predictably and like Aeneas and Dido, they consummate their emotional vulnerabilities at the height of the storm.
While there is nothing remotely original in anything on screen, Lane and Gere dignify the proceedings while elevating the material of this girlish fantasy with their heartfelt, affecting performances. Gere, a silver fox just a hair short of being too beautiful to be true, is the ideal hunk turned into a sensitive man by the love of a good woman. Lane, sleek in jeans and sweaters, with the no-makeup look and unstudied crop that do nothing to detract from her own beauty, is the selfless wife and mother finally clued into her won intrinsic value by the love of an ideal hunk turning into a sensitive man. There in their bubble they discover the true meaning of life and love with the occasional bit of wisdom from the colorful locals who are unsullied by book-learning, and by Jean, whose sole purpose is to say things along the lines of “you go girl” before dropping out of the story’s sight until the next necessary “you go girl”.
NIGHTS IN RODANTHE relishes its own excess. There is pandering aplenty to the romance novel crowd, but there’s not a trace of disrespect to the genre to be found. Instead, it offers a sudsy good wallow as well as a good cry for those who want that sort of thing and very little for anyone else.