The ads say “Nights in Rodanthe” is based on a novel by the man who wrote “The Notebook,” and that might tell you everything you need to know. Will there be schmaltz? Will it be a weepy romance? Will death and mourning play a role? Since it’s based on a Nicholas Sparks book (“A Walk to Remember” is another one), you can bet your hankie on all of the above.
“Rodanthe,” set mostly on an island of that name just off the coast of North Carolina, is a grown-up romantic drama about a suburban mom named Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane) who’s at a crossroads in her life. Her husband (Christopher Meloni) was unfaithful and left her a few months ago, and now he wants to come back. Her teenager daughter (Mae Whitman) hates her, the way all teenage girls hate their mothers.
In the midst of this storm (and a literal one, as a hurricane threatens Rodanthe), Adrienne takes over her friend’s beachside bed-and-breakfast and develops a connection with the only guest, Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a doctor who’s visiting the island to deal with some unfinished business regarding a former patient. Paul is divorced and has a son (James Franco), also a doctor, with whom he has had a falling out.
Adrienne and Paul have both dealt with loss recently, and each has reached an emotional barricade of some kind. “What are you so afraid of?” she demands to know of him. “What are YOU so afraid of?” he fires back. And yes, it’s the kind of movie where people have complex emotional conversations like that.
It’s the theatrical feature debut for director George C. Wolfe, who was Emmy-nominated for his 2005 TV film “Lackawanna Blues.” With a screenplay adapted by Ann Peacock (“Kit Kittredge: An American Girl”) and John Romano (“The Third Miracle”), Wolfe wades through the crying and the “I’m sorry”-based dialogue — there’s a lot of apologizing in this movie — well enough. The scene in which the hurricane strikes the inn, a major point in the story’s emotional structure, is particularly well shot and edited.
I guess it’s admirable that a movie about two 50-year-olds falling in love managed to get made in Hollywood at all, and the central performances are solid — but they’d have to be, to make something this rote and formulaic come even close to working. It all feels like it came from a template: push this button, establish that emotion, make that character sad, etc. I have nothing against a weepy romance, but this one didn’t do anything for me, largely because everything it tries to do is so obvious and predictable. It’s hard to get into a magic trick when you can see the stuff stashed up the magician’s sleeve.
C (1 hr., 37 min.; )