½*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C
starring Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Scott Glenn, Christopher Meloni
screenplay by Ann Peacock and John Romano, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
directed by George C. Wolfe
by Walter Chaw I will say this about Nights in Rodanthe: spoken Nicholas Sparks is preferable to written Nicholas Sparks, because when people speak, complete sentences and thoughts that go somewhere aren't necessarily at a premium. If there was ever an artist ill-suited for his chosen medium, it's Sparks; and if there was ever proof (as if proof were needed after the success of Robert James Waller, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz) that cuddling ignorance was a growth industry, well, there's Sparks again. And here, as further cause for divorce from the great nation of culturally-retarded people who have always comprised our metaphorical heartland, is the fourth adaptation of a bound stable of Sparks's saccharine logorrhoea (Gertrude Stein in practice in the unlikeliest of places), Nights in Rodanthe, which, in the great tradition of pieces of shit, is exactly like every other piece of shit in every other genre. (Be thankful, at least, that the picture, in a futile attempt to separate itself from The Notebook, jettisons the novel's framing device, that great staple of books by people like Sparks and Mitch Albom--in so doing depriving some dusty, geriatric, beloved television star one last paycheck.) Helpless before the towering majesty of the formula god it worships, the picture plays out like a slasher pic for girls, where the only sport is trying to figure out which of the heroes is going to die, how, when, and by what grievous hand. I'd argue that the catharsis parceled out by garbage like this is identical to the "happy ending" whored out by lower-aspiring slasher cinema: the curiosity about the hows is delicious--and perverse. If you think I've dropped a spoiler, by the way, you haven't seen Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, or The Notebook, and--more than likely--you're not going to see Nights in Rodanthe, either.
It's voyeurism raised to high art in that the audience sits in the dark before a lighted window watching people fuck, die, and, worst of all, grieve until their eyes are raw from the unbearable weight of all that angsty melodrama: spend your Nights in Rodanthe peeping at the embarrassed tangles and untanglings of Dr. Flanner (Richard Gere), whiling away a few nights at a beachfront B&B with substitute proprietor Adrienne Wills (Diane Lane). Unspeakably beautiful, Lane, as she ages, is beginning to look a little like Gere around the eyes, which gives the film a charge of taboo that their previous collaboration, Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful, spooled out in spades. Her Adrienne is a mother of two one-line moppets--rebellious teen Amanda (Mae Whitman) and Harry Potter-esque dork Danny (Charlie Tahan)--whose wayward husband Jack (Christopher Meloni) has just asked her to take him back. Sassy Black friend Jean (Viola Davis) rolls her eyes, gets her groove back in some Caribbean backwater, and by the way asks pal Adrienne to watch her great-great-grandmammy's place while she's away. Of course the only guest at said "place" is Doc Flanner, chased by his own demons down to Mexico for a sappy, General Hospital reunion with Samaritan, young Ché manqué Mark (an inexplicably uncredited James Franco, who, let's face it, isn't better than this movie)--but not before he lays Adrienne during a hurricane, breaking the slasher pic taboo of pre-marital sex and thus catalyzing his own exit from the film in what looks, literally, like a flood of shit ripping down his jungle hut. It's the film at its most honest.
Ending with a stampede of horses that had even the most un-jaded day-patients in the packed screening audience giggling uncomfortably (not helping is editing that suggests Adrienne is about to be pounded into paste by the noble steeds), Nights in Rodanthe is most interesting because it's interesting in a variety of ways that have nothing to do with the film. If it's not George C. Wolfe's stunningly conventional directorial choices, it's indie editor Brian A. Kates's inability to take the material at face value--a half-dozen or so stylistic jokes either amplify the crippling stupidity of the material or, as with the horses and a few other cutting strategies throughout, present it as a horror movie. No way a guy who's worked with Jonathan Caouette and John Cameron Mitchell doesn't appreciate the inherent camp value of wizened Scott Glenn foghorn "Ah Saying" through a eulogy for his cyst-disfigured wife--and so, accordingly, the camp value fails to go unappreciated. The result is this bipolar Frankenstein abomination: one half in gleeful wallow, the other in heartfelt pap. Nights in Rodanthe might be worth it just for a demonstration of how to make one of the worst, most unpleasant, patronizing, pandering mainstream dick-strokes of the year, with a lovable asshole providing quiet, in-film commentary on its instant camp-classic status. In its way, it's the biggest middle finger of the 2008 sweepstakes--this year's The Hills Have Eyes remake, in Gere/Lane form. Bring a tissue. Originally published: September 26, 2008.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Man, there is just something creepy about Nicholas Sparks, who looks like the lovechild of Monroe from "Too Close for Comfort" and Richard Roeper and exudes zero passion when discussing anything relevant to that very thing. Sparks gets a featurette, the vomitously-titled "A Time for Love: Keeping Up with Nicholas Sparks" (11 mins.), all to himself on the Blu-ray release of Nights in Rodanthe, talking about his many extracurricular pursuits, including a desire to proselytize today's youth to his cagily-defined agenda--the only example he'll provide is that he prefers "the old math"--via the similarly-vomitously-titled, privately-run educational institution "The Epiphany School." Writing is clearly drudge-work for him ("If I can get [2000 words] done in two hours then I'm outta there!"), but that doesn't stop him from hawking his next book (which sounds like unintentional self-parody), or from sociopathically extolling the temporariness of love--which is, after all, the Colonel's Secret Recipe to his best-selling bodice-rippers. There's less Sparks but still too much in "The Name of Love" (21 mins.), a more typical making-of that introduces us to the pretentious George C. Wolfe, who, like theatre-turned-film director Michael Mayer before him, should never be allowed behind a camera again. The house is a metaphor and blah blah, but the house was always gonna be a metaphor--give me someone who can shoot footage that actually cuts together. (Nights in Rodanthe is quite possibly the worst-edited studio picture I've ever seen.) Diane Lane seems bored in a joint interview with Gere conducted at the picture's press junket, though as an aside I do applaud the featurette for not being, as these things so often are, oppressively promotional.
Big bad Wolfe returns in "In Rodanthe" to interview Emmylou Harris, writer/recording artist of the titular song, which she performs intermittently throughout the piece. I'm pretty sure that Wolfe only volunteered to be her interrogator because he likes the sound of his own voice, something that's borne out by a 7-minute selection of "Additional Footage" featuring forced (as in not optional) commentary from the faux-teur, who even talks over an unabridged musical performance! ("Listen to this beautiful violin solo," he says without a trace of irony.) Apropos of nothing, a memorable image of a floating house had to be cut because of Katrina. All of this DG Entertainment-produced bonus material is presented in 1080i and DD 5.1, while the film proper is given the full 1080p treatment. Nights in Rodanthe's 2.40:1 transfer is light on grain but not too glossy; in the end it may be a little overcooked, yet it ultimately makes a strong case for Affonso Beato's cinematography and boasts some of the most brilliant blues I've encountered on the small screen. I'd probably just mourn the disc's absence of lossless audio if I could decode it, but from my current perspective the DD 5.1 track delivers the goods, especially during the set-piece thunderstorm--outside of which the film is a dialogue-driven affair, anyway. Originally published: February 24, 2009.