Thursday, October 23, 2008

Film Review--Nights in Rodanthe

Nights in Rodanthe
directed by George C. Wolfe
written by Ann Peacock and John Romano
based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
starring Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Christopher Meloni, Viola Davis, Scott Glenn, Pablo Schreiber, Mae Whitman, Charlie Tahan

Against the backdrop of a forthcoming hurricane, two deeply wounded people take solace in each other’s company.

As the film opens Adrienne Willis (Lane) is contemplating whether or not she should let her husband Jack (Meloni) back into her life. She heads off to her friend Jean’s inn to stay while Jean does some work out of town. Meanwhile Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere) is traveling 200 miles at the request of a man who wants Paul to explain something to him. He first stops off at the inn and makes himself comfortable. He is the only guest.

The film builds up to the inevitable coming together but it doesn’t focus on this particular aspect of the story. Sadness and loss take center stage and the relationship is periphery. The core of the story is the various miseries that these two characters are enduring and how finding each other helps each of them recover slightly from their sorrows. It isn’t their bond that is important but rather the fact that they are able to connect with another person for whom they are able to establish legitimate feelings for. These are individuals who both have been afflicted by a death and it’s been difficult for each of them to get over it.

The actual romantic scenes between Adrienne and Paul are syrupy and typical of films dealing with couples hooking up. There is a tremendous scene leading up to the mingling of lust and sentimentality that involves an argument between the two just as the storm is hitting. To the wild cacophony of wind and water, the pair struggle to board up the inn to withstand the torrents and the fierceness of the storm. Soon afterward she lays with her head on his shoulder and instantly the scene changes into a brief romantic interlude followed by the typical scenes prolonging the experience. Once they find each other in that specific way it takes a while for the film to regain the essence of the buildup. Why is it that peak moments in some films lead inevitably to a let down and often never recover. Everything save two scenes after the storm lack the poignancy of the first half of the film. Perhaps it’s just more enjoyable to watch a film that is replete with tension that to sit through something where that tension has dissipated. Fortunately for this film that lack of tension is quickly replaced with a moment of profound significance that is truly riveting.

This is a film that deals with concerns of psychological torment and real loss. These are complicated people who have fallen into a trap that they themselves did not create. Circumstances have conspired to create a life that is terminally haunted by the ghosts of others whose lives were greatly impacting. Adrienne is a mother of two children–Amanda (Whitman) and Danny (Tahan)-- for whom she lives for. She is anguished over the possibility of saying yes to her husband who cheated on her with a very close friend. Early in the film she’s unsure where her heart is at but as soon as Paul arrives and they connect it’s obvious which way she is leaning. She falls hard for Paul and decides she wants to build a life with him. He travels overseas and they write love letters back and forth and it is during these moments that Adrienne is ecstatically happy and brimming with anticipation.

This is not a sappy film overall. It deals with real people who find each other quite randomly and really seem to fit. It also explores the nature of human suffering and self-appointed torments that often lead a person to persecute themselves for various imaginary indiscretions. In this case Paul is truly suffering from a pain that will not heal. Adrienne is recovering but not in the same way yet she can relate to Paul just enough so that their bond is sealed in familiarity. It’s a film where love slowly unfolds and the characters are so that one can only say that they seem to deserve it considering all that they have been through. Still, this isn’t a film about that love, necessarily. It’s about escape. It’s about losing oneself in the moment of another’s kiss or embrace. The love is just a byproduct of the electricity that passes between them. They are dazed into a stupor and endorphins kick in which they imagine must be love because it feels so expansive.

The kids are interesting as far as film kids go. The girl is something of a little wanna be goth tart with a boss tattoo on her navel. She so desperately wants to be hard and impossible but her mother is always getting in the way. And she hates her mother for what is going on between her parents so she blows off steam, rattles a few chains, and otherwise makes a nuisance of herself at her mother’s expense. In other words she’s rather typical for the spoilt brat type and nothing she does is particularly novel or unusual. As for the boy he’s typical weak, sickly computer geek and not much else. Mostly he just looks pathetic and tries to get out of the way of his sister’s taunts. Between them they make up a happy little unit that don’t exactly defy expectations.

The performances in this film are natural and believable. Diane Lane creates a strong, vital character who is struggling to find a direction that makes sense. She is slowly unveiled before Paul and learns to unleash an energy that heretofore she’s kept bottled up. Richard Gere is solid in this role and he conveys the hurt in his character’s eyes for a goodly portion of the film. He gives the audience a complex man with emotions that often confuse him. Viola Davis is quite good in a limited role. She establishes a cool, fun-loving woman with a penchant for decorating and a keen artistic eye. She just looks like an artist and possesses an openness that is instantly recognizable. Scott Glenn gives an intense, heartbreaking performance as a man searching for answers after suffering a terrible loss. His deliberate phrasings stretch out the agony of watching him struggle through reliving the nightmarish event that took his wife.

Overall, this film captures the essence of what a sudden romance is. But it does so while managing to focus its attention on the gravity of certain lives to whom the lot of suffering is more pronounced and immediate than most folks. These are not easy characters to understand as their motivations are hidden for much of the film. They don’t even seem to know themselves precisely what they want and it is this factor that make them the most believable. They are merely broken types who find another who sets out to heal them. It’s a simple tale, really, and one that has been told hundreds of times in various formats. At one point it seems that nothing could possibly pry these people apart, so dynamic do they appear, how like themselves. This is a film that uses the concept of transformation to showcase how it works in the lives of two people who desperately need something to go right.

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