Friday, September 26, 2008

"Nights in Rodanthe"

Despite occasional evidence to the contrary, I'm a cynic at heart, and not particularly susceptible to shameless "chick flicks" or unabashed tear-jerkers. I don't know if I would like Nicholas Sparks' novels, but I'd imagine not. I thought the film version of "The Notebook" was elevated by a top-tier cast and weepiness that worked, but I've not seen "Message in a Bottle" or "A Walk to Remember," nor do I long to. And on paper, I know "Nights in Rodanthe" is treacly, manipulative crap. My understanding of all four films makes it seem Sparks has a reliable, manipulative framework and just punches in different characters' names for the same effect. The reliably formula screenplay for the "Nights in Rodanthe," on its own, would be unremarkable and borderline-annoying. But thanks to the performances of Diane Lane, Richard Gere, the chemistry between the two, and perhaps most of all, the understated direction of theatre vet George C. Wolf, we buy it. No matter how irritated you may be with that trailer and that increasingly annoying song in it, for what it is, the movie works. Wolfe, Lane and Gere take inherently maudlin and pandering material, and ground it, largely avoiding garish sentimentality and somehow making it feel true.

Believe me, this isn't a movie I'm proud to admit I'm liking. About halfway through, I heard a voice in my head saying "No, no, you can't like this. no one will ever trust your opinion again. First, 'Lakeview Terrace,' then 'Igor,' then 'The Duchess,' now this?" Hate to admit it, but yeah. It's a tasteful, classy, weepy girls-night-out movie that your mother will love, and if you approach on its own terms, will exceed your meager expectations. There's a certain kind of audience member that can't, and won't, fall for this stuff no matter how well (or poorly) executed it is, and I can respect that. These kind of movies aren't for everyone. But watching "Nights in Rodanthe," I could recognize that in pantheon of lady-baiting romance novel tearjerkers, this is one of the good ones.


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