After memorably teaming in “Unfaithful” (and years before that in “The Cotton Club”), Diane Lane and Richard Gere are less memorably reunited in this spare but effective telling of a novel by Nicholas Sparks, he of “The Notebook” renown. It’s the sort of film, frankly, one either utterly succumbs to or stubbornly resists, and those opting for the former course shouldn’t be disappointed. Lane has practically cornered the market on romantic chick flicks for a slightly older audience, and this one should find a modest sweet spot in theatrical release before inevitable immortality in endless airings on Lifetime.
As directed by George C. Wolfe (HBO’s “Lackawanna Blues”) and adapted by Ann Peacock and John Romano, “Nights in Rodanthe” plays like a two-character piece, with a handful of decent cameos (including an uncredited one by James Franco) for the supporting cast.
Adrienne (Lane) is still wounded by the infidelity and departure of her husband, Jack (Christopher Meloni), who puts in a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation before taking the kids on a vacation to Orlando. She decides to think it over while spending a few days overseeing the North Carolina beachfront inn inherited by her friend Jean (Viola Davis).
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Enter Paul (Gere), a doctor — and the inn’s lone guest — on twin missions of personal redemption, the first involving a case that went bad, and the second, his estranged son (Franco). Paul and Adrienne initially share some awkward moments getting acquainted before a hurricane buffets the beach, almost literally throwing them into each other’s arms. Another sort of whirlwind — this one of the romantic variety — ensues, complicated by the fact that both have lives and commitments elsewhere.
Credit the natural rapport between Gere and Lane — who somehow seems to look more luminous the less you doll her up — for filling in what’s really a pretty thin gruel, elevating material that, with lesser stars, could easily have been transformed into a Hallmark Channel movie. Both convey not only pain but also a sense of surprised giddiness at the prospect of this new relationship, which surely has a reassuring quality to those on the down side of 40.
While “The Notebook” tugged at powerful emotional chords, producer Denise Di Novi also brought Sparks’ “Message in a Bottle” and “A Walk to Remember” to the screen; “Nights in Rodanthe” falls somewhere in between. There’s a decidedly old-fashioned streak to the story that actually works to its advantage puttying over the gaps, including the demure love scenes, sweeping ocean vistas and questions of whether Adrienne can recover the ambitions she sidelined for her cheatin’ man.
At times more restraint would have been welcome — Jeanine Tesori’s too-urgent score comes to mind — but that’s not really the Sparks formula, which unabashedly deals in love, loss and the possibility of second chances. “Nights in Rodanthe” is hardly groundbreaking, but for those with an appetite for an increasingly rare gust of unapologetic romance, well, as they say, any port in a storm.