OK, so "Nights in Rodanthe" is a chick flick; one with a stunning score and beautiful North Carolina scenery. Beyond the pretty places, it's still a weepy, romantic romp. For the guys, there's a snappy sports car and -- well, you get to make your girl happy for a breezy 90 minutes or so.
Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (there are obvious common themes with "Message in a Bottle," his other tale of coastal reflection and romance), this sudsy tale of "a love that gives you the courage to be better than you are" moves at a refreshingly brisk clip considering the remote, unpopulated locale.
Diane Lane, in what has become her trademark, plays Adrienne Willis, a frazzled wife with a somewhat sleazy husband who, once again, looks way better than a mom of a teenager has any right to, retaining her sense and sex appeal between laundry and household chores. As the cheating yet remorseful Jack Willis, Christopher Meloni, (in a delightful departure from his tough-guy 'SVU' role) shines and manages to evoke sympathy from both his children and the audience.
When her friend Jean (a wonderful Viola Davis) must travel for business, Adrienne offers to take over her waterside inn for the weekend; it's off-season, and there's only one guest expected. Also expected: a hurricane. Davis is a welcome ray of cheer in an otherwise mushy movie. Always ready with a quip or a sympathetic shoulder, she offers enthusiastic encouragement on the dating front and doubles as affectionate 'aunt' to Adrienne's torn, resentful children: sensitive, adorable Danny (Charlie Tahan) and attitude-galore Amanda (Mae Whitman), who despite the outward rebellion, is nonetheless crushed by her parents' separation.
Dangerously handsome Dr. Paul Flanner (the rugged Richard Gere), looking as if he just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad, is a smooth seaside treat: easy on the eyes, dressed preppy-perfect and sufficiently rumpled so as to credibly portray being troubled. Trying to repair a broken relationship with his adult son, he sells his elegant home and runs away for a weekend on the Outer Banks.
You know you're in trouble when the biggest audience reaction of the night comes from recognition of the familiar highway leading out of downtown Raleigh. After that, it's the waves, the sand, and -- how timely -- a very big storm that in itself provides a haven of sorts.
With no power and nowhere to go, the guilt-ridden parents, Adrienne and Paul, have no choice but to reflect on their individual turmoil and offer each other emotional support and physical refuge. Both are trying to escape and satisfy a nagging need to forget. Thrown together, the lonely, lost souls are soon exchanging family anecdotes, sharing their innermost dreams and disappointments and freely commiserating with the help of some very strong whiskey. Beyond the occasional treacly moments, there is a reassuring comfort in the brief, awkward intimacy.
A laconic and brilliant Scott Glenn stars as Torrelson, the husband of Flanner's recent patient. His intensity and emotion are both palpable and heartbreaking.
But for the most part, even these seismic Hollywood stars are eclipsed by the real star, the intoxicating, powerful surf. Hurricanes, foreclosure, gas prices, traffic on I-40 -- we could all use a few nights in Rodanthe.