Nicholas Sparks is clearly an agent of evil. Who else can write stories that are sappier than maple syrup and still win you over in the end? I made fun of Nights in Rodanthe right up until the last five minutes of the movie. I heckled it. I mocked it. I pointed out how manipulative and cliched and contrived it was, and then, in the end, I cried. At this point, I’m halfway convinced I loved it.
When we first meet Adrienne Willis (Diane Lane), she is enduring something of a mid-life crisis. She’s still reeling from the death of her father, and she recently split from her cheating husband, Jack (Christopher Meloni). In essence, she’s just going through the motions of life, trying to meet her marks and do the right thing for her kids. Adrienne’s daughter has been angry and rebellious since Jack moved out, and her little boy (who might as well be Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol) has asthma. Needless to say, when Adrienne’s friend offers her the family inn for a weekend, Adrienne is thrilled. She sends the kids to Orlando with Jack and heads to the North Carolina coast.
Though Adrienne will have full run of this enormous beach house, there are a couple of caveats. The first is that a Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere) will be staying the weekend, so Adrienne will have to play inn-keeper to him. The second is that a big-ass hurricane is on the way. Surely neither of these things will put a damper on Adrienne’s weekend of relaxation and soul-searching, and anyway, I smell romance!
Though Paul is dead handsome and perfectly well behaved, he’s visiting the inn to deal with issues of his own. Before flying off to South America to make peace with his estranged adult son (a saintlier version of himself who’s busy with medical relief work), Paul intends to meet with a man who is suing him for the wrongful death of his wife. Of course, this was no ordinary family that Paul wronged—they’re Simple Folk who speak like they’re working a wad of tobacco even when they’re not and use words like “dag gum”. The woman’s husband (Scott Glenn) saved up all his life to pay for corrective surgery, and Dr. Flanner didn’t even care when she died on the table. Dag gum him!
Since Adrienne knows a thing or two about grief (as she’ll be happy to tell you), she steps up and tells Paul how to get right with the Simple Folk. He’s not a bad guy, after all, just a bit clueless and insensitive. Oddly, in the midst of this little therapy session Paul and Adrienne have to drop everything and batten down the hatches. Despite ample warning, every window in the house is open when that pesky old hurricane hits. I think this is sort of the climax of the movie, but it evokes little more than eye-rolling and serves no purpose other than to propel Adrienne and Paul into each other’s arms momentarily.
The crux of their affair takes place over the days that follow, during which time Adrienne and Paul both realize that they’re not living up to their full potential. They begin exchanging letters after they go their separate ways, inspiring one another to be the best possible versions of themselves. Adrienne makes a final break from Jack and begins to reclaim her identity, and Paul makes amends with his son and immerses himself in relief work. If only they could be together again, everything would be perfect! Ah, but life has other plans, and an act of Nicholas Sparks, er, God, keeps them apart. Of course it does, and for the umpteenth time I smacked myself on my head and started mumbling about the film’s blatant emotional manipulation of moviegoers.
I kept mumbling as Diane Lane did her usual emotional distress routine (ugly crying, moping, excessively touching her face) and then I had to stop because I couldn’t talk around the lump in my throat. Yes, at the last minute, Nights in Rodanthe threw a curveball and totally made me cry. Suddenly it seemed like a pretty swell story all about the beauty of a love that inspires and elevates, and now I don’t know what to think. All I know is that Nicholas Sparks is the devil.