It takes tears, jerk

Nights in Rodanthe

I want your teeth.

I want your teeth.

Rated 3.0

Here’s a little advice for you guys in the dating scene: If you’re looking for some way to spend an evening with that lady you’ve been trying to get to first base with, try passing up Death Race or that fourth trip to The Dark Knight and, instead, take her to see Nights in Rodanthe. Guaranteed results.

With a script by Ann Peacock and John Romano from Nicholas Sparks’ novel and slickly directed by George C. Wolfe, Nights in Rodanthe is another specimen of the grandly contrived romantic weepies that have made Sparks (Message in a Bottle, The Notebook) so popular, and which seem destined to be made into movies where glamorous stars fall deliriously in love in postcard locations with the wind in their hair and sunlight dappling the slate-gray sea. Think of it as Lifetime Television with a Steven Spielberg budget.

Diane Lane plays Adrienne Willis, a North Carolina mother of two who has been separated for seven months from her philandering husband, Jack. As the movie opens, Adrienne is packing the kids off for a long weekend with their father while she goes off to tend a friend’s ocean-front bed-and-breakfast—only to learn that Jack (Christopher Meloni) has already tired of his young squeeze and wants to “come home.” Distraught and resentful at his emotional pressure, Adrienne is only too eager for a soothing seaside escape.

It’s off-season at her friend’s inn—an aging, dignified Victorian that looks like the Bates house from Psycho transferred to the Atlantic seaboard and given better lighting—and Adrienne has only one guest to worry about: Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a doctor who clearly hasn’t come for the scenery. He’s got something on his mind.

We learn what it is in halting pieces, which the movie gives us in quick, economical flashbacks. Dr. Paul, a distinguished surgeon, is estranged from his son Mark, also a doctor (and played by an unbilled James Franco), because of Paul’s poor handling of the aftermath of an operation in which a patient suddenly and inexplicably died on the operating table. Paul is now on his way to Ecuador, where Mark is working at a remote clinic for the poor. He has stopped here in Rodanthe at the request of his late patient’s widowed husband (Scott Glenn), wondering why the man wants to talk to him, especially since there’s a wrongful-death lawsuit pending.

With their unspoken anxieties clouding the chilly air and the radio warning of a big storm a-comin’, Adrienne and Paul inevitably find themselves drawn to one another. It begins with dinner in the kitchen because Paul doesn’t want to dine alone, progresses through dancing saucily to Brook Benton and Dinah Washington on the old record player (those vinyl LPs are so much more romantic than these newfangled CDs, aren’t they?) and culminates in a passionate embrace as they huddle by candlelight while the full fury of the storm lashes the shutters of the windows around them. The more romantic viewers in the audience will wonder where this unexpected ecstasy will lead for Adrienne and Paul. Others may look at the house, the ocean, and the storm and wonder, “What idiot builds a five-story wooden mansion on sand, 6 inches from the ocean, in hurricane country?”

The storm passes, but not the passion. Director Wolfe and company give us the rest of Adrienne and Paul’s idyllic weekend in the same sort of shorthand that sketched in Paul’s back story: giggling over their plates at a community crab feed, gazing at the moonlit ocean from the end of the pier, and (Do they dare? Yes, they do!) strolling hand-in-hand along the beach.

With the weekend over (and the ghost of Paul’s late patient seemingly laid to rest), the two go their separate ways—Paul on to Ecuador, Adrienne back to deal with the wreckage of her dying marriage. Letters pass between them—long, loving and filled with yearning. (“Who writes such letters anymore?” asks Adrienne’s friend. Who, indeed.)

It all ends in a welter of sniffles in the darkened theater that made me wish I had the Kleenex concession in the lobby. So boys, take that gal to see Nights in Rodanthe; you may fidget, but you won’t be sorry. And if your date isn’t exactly Diane Lane … well, you’re probably no Richard Gere yourself.