'Rodanthe' is a roller-coaster ride

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2008

If you're a female between the ages of 16 and 30, chances are you know who Nicholas Sparks is. For the rest of you: He's a popular author, known for his romance novellas. So far, the most successful film adaptation has been 2004's "The Notebook," with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Going back to the previously mentioned demographic, they've all seen "The Notebook" - probably more than once.

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Courtesy Of Dinovi Pictures
Courtesy Of Dinovi Pictures

Here's the dirty little secret about "The Notebook": The dudes liked it, too. We might not all admit it, but it's the truth. True to Sparks' form, "The Notebook" was completely over-the-top sappy, a shameless tearjerker, and melodramatic. And it worked.

Naturally then, any Sparks adaptation made since is automatically compared to "The Notebook."

"Nights in Rodanthe" is the first movie to step up to the plate.

As with any love story that focuses almost entirely on two characters, it's critical to have good leads. "Rodanthe" features Richard Gere, who plays Dr. Paul Flanner, and Diane Lane, who plays Adrienne Willis. Two seasoned veterans, Gere and Lane are more than up to the task of carrying a romance.

Lane portrays Adrienne quite brilliantly as a woman who exists solely for her kids. Her marriage is falling apart, and we eventually find out she's given up her passion (art) to be a better mother. Still, while she loves her kids, Adrienne is unhappy. Gere, despite his beady eyes that I have a hard time trusting, conveys the deep hurt and inner turmoil in Dr. Flanner with skill. Thanks to the talent of Gere and Lane, then, it is at least mildly believable when Adrienne and Dr. Flanner are drawn together.

In fact, the cast on the whole is just fine. Christopher Meloni, of "Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit" fame, does good work in limited screen time as Adrienne's desperate husband. Scott Glenn, whose weathered face reflects his pain incredibly vividly, is effective in his role as a widower who is looking for some sign of compassion from the doctor (Flanner) who watched his wife die. Even the sultry Viola Davis is fun to watch as Adrienne's supportive best friend, Jean.

In fact, I don't even have a problem with George C. Wolfe's sometimes drawn out direction (I get that Adrienne and Dr. Flanner are in pain, but how many times do we need to see them simultaneously staring meaningfully into the sky?). It should be understood going in to a Sparks movie that there are going to be some painfully cheesy scenes.

That's fine.

My problem with "Rodanthe" actually lies with Sparks. I have not read the novel, but I'll assume writers Ann Peacock and John Romano haven't done anything drastic to Sparks' storyline. So I am frankly baffled by the final act of "Rodanthe."

I don't want to spoil the whole movie, but I have to admit I started to feel really bad for Adrienne. For her, "Rodanthe" is a 97-minute roller coaster that starts her out feeling down, but then builds and builds and builds toward happily ever after. Finally, after a lifetime of putting others first, Adrienne is getting the true happiness she deserves.

Except there's another 30 minutes left. And as you know, roller coasters don't end at the top.

Leaving the theater I realized two things. First, I hadn't shed a tear ("The Notebook" draws multiple cries without fail). Second, I wondered what in the world Sparks' problem with Adrienne was. She deserved a happy ending, and I selfishly wanted her to get one.

For that, Mr. Sparks, I'm docking you two stars.

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