October 2, 2008

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Nights in Rodanthe (PG-13)
Do you have an unhappy marriage, ungrateful kids and an unfulfilled need for artistic expression? Soothe your distressed spirit with Nights in Rodanthe, a fairy tale about midlife romance that is to the unhappily married/separated/divorced-woman’s soul what Bridget Jones Diary was to the desperately-seeking singleton.

Plus, Richard Gere.

Adrienne (Diane Lane) is recently separated from her husband Jack (Christopher Meloni), who left her for another woman, and is mourning the loss of her beloved father, who died some months ago. She is trying to hold together some semblance of normalcy for her two children, sweet Danny (Charlie Tahan) and teenaged hatebomb Amanda (Mae Whitman), who despises Adrienne for both the usual teenage girl reasons and because she believes her mom is the reason her family isn’t together. On one of her husband’s weekends with the kids, Adrienne seeks to escape all this familial bliss by staying at the bed and breakfast owned by her friend Jean (Viola Davis) out on Rodanthe, a town on an island on the outer banks of North Carolina.

While there, Adrienne need only tend the room and make the meals for one guest — Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere), a tense, recently divorced doctor. After a ridiculously small amount of introduction, Paul and Adrienne start pouring out their lives to each other, becoming soul mates over wine, low lighting and guilt. And, because this is that kind of movie, the beautiful beachfront bed-and-breakfast is menaced by a hurricane that leads them to hunker down and huddle up and seek shelter underneath the sheets, because I’m pretty sure getting naked with a handsome stranger is one of FEMA’s recommendations for hurricane safety.

Had you and I both seen this movie and then retired to some comfy-chair-having bistro where glasses of wine facilitated further discussion of Nights in Rodanthe, I would explain why the ending of the movie represents the absolute pinnacle of wish fulfillment. But since you have maybe not seen the movie yet, I won’t go into detail. (Feel free to e-mail me if you’ve seen the movie and disagree and I’ll explain my point of view.) We’ll leave it at this: short of having Adrienne win the lottery and find out she’s the monarch of a mid-sized European country, the movie ends with a perfect renovation of her formerly sad sack life; Extreme Home Makeover couldn’t do it any better. (And if you think I’m spoiling something here, did you really expect it’d end with a shoot-out?)

From its Lifetime movie premise to its sappy ending, Nights in Rodanthe is a deeply silly movie but I kind of suspect that silly-but-satisfying is the point. Lane glows a radiant skin-cream-commercial glow and is the very picture of 40something sexiness set to the Real Simple magazine speed. Gere is the older-yuppie-male ideal — he has a good career, no wife, a spiffy haircut and carries around pictures of the grown son who he’s becoming all “Cat’s in the Cradle” about. They meet not in the depressing way you actually meet people (after a series of demoralizing blind dates or via wrong-headed workplace romances) but by chance in a ridiculously romantic setting. They are forced together by a hurricane. They talk about their feelings — a lot. I don’t know if most women actually enjoy all this feelings discussion, but it’s common pop culture convention that we’re supposed to, so the movie gives us a Paul who can go on and on about every gushy emotion. And, in case you’re not a let-me-read-to-you-from-my-dream-journal kind of gal, Nights distracts you, like any romantic fairy tale movie, with utterly beautiful real estate decorated with linen-catalogue perfection.

I rather hated this movie but that doesn’t mean I can’t see its value to those who love a suspenseless weepie. If you respond well to the words “Beaches is on tonight” and have Under the Tuscan Sun (another Lane pick-me-up) on DVD, Nights in Rodanthe will satisfy you like a box of Godiva and a warm mug of cocoa. For everybody else, the movie will stick in your throat like a waxy carob vitamin bar. C-

Rated PG-13 for some sensuality. Directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Anna Peacock and John Romano (from a novel by Nicholas Sparks), Nights in Rodanthe is hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Warner Bros.