Nights in Rodanthe (George C. Wolfe, 2008)
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Category: THE FINAL SPARKS-DOWN. Blog completists will no doubt be aware of my quest to watch all six of the films that have been adapted from novels by known treaclemonger Nicholas Sparks. This quest began almost ten months ago with The Notebook, and continued throughout the year with The Last Song, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and Dear John. It’s been a hard slog. I don’t mean to be disrespectful here, but by watching all these films, I now understand what it’s like to fight in a war. I feel like Channing Tatum, sending these missives from the front to Amanda Seyfried/all of you dear friends of the blog back home who are safely protected from the horrors of battle/the standard Sparks lugubrious piffle.
To be frank, I’m not really sure what this one is about. I do know it is a sad movie about a big house on the water in North Carolina, which you could have inferred when I said that it was based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. (SPARKS THEME.) I also know that the film stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane. I famously fell asleep while watching the Gere film Autumn in New York for this blog. I doubt I could ever fall asleep while watching Diane Lane, though, as she is a stone cold fox.
My familiarity with this issue: Honestly, there are few subjects about which I am more well-versed at this point in my life than Nicholas Sparks movies. (I need a job, folks.) I hasten to point out that I have never read any of the man’s books, but I see no reason to. (If only because we’ve never delved into book reviews here on Taste My Sad.) The man has sold a lot of books without my support, and I neither intend to give him any of my money by purchasing one of his books, nor risk the judgment of the woman at the library checkout desk by borrowing one. (In a related story, I can only imagine what the people at Netflix think of me.)
There are three things that are dangerous about the Sparks M.O. The first is his oppressive old-fashionedness. I’ve written in the past that it’s easy to picture Sparks as a hermit, a man who lives away from society (like so many of his characters), hammering out his books on a typewriter, a man in possession of neither a cell phone nor an understanding of how people actually interact with one another in the 21st century. The romantic conflicts at the heart of his stories are the overheated, overwrought, overdone fantasies of a man who spends too much time alone. To imagine your friends acting like Sparks's characters is to immediately imagine yourself seeking new friends.
Second, I’ve also noted that the problem with his obvious disdain for modern things is a problem inherent in nostalgia: the desire to return to a better, simpler time that probably never existed in the first place. The best Sparks stuff I’ve seen are the flashback parts of The Notebook, and that’s because they were actually set in the past. And still it took all of Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams’s collective charisma (and that’s a lot of freakin’ charisma) to pull many of those plainly ridiculous scenes off. His stories are in no way based in reality, and that people buy his books and see the films expecting to learn something about life is a shame.
And that leads into the most important problem of all: Nicholas Sparks probably knows all this. He may not be much of an author, but he’s a fantastic capitalist. He’s carefully developed a formula, written the same goddamn book sixteen times, gotten several of those books made into movies, and as a result he has more money than all of us put together. It's a con, and I'm sure this movie is no different.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Adrienne Willis, a woman with her life in chaos, retreats to the tiny coastal town of Rodanthe, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to tend to a friend's inn for the weekend. Here she hopes to find the tranquility she so desperately needs to rethink the conflicts surrounding her – a wayward husband who has asked to come home, and a teen-aged daughter who resents her every decision. Almost as soon as Adrienne gets to Rodanthe, a major storm is forecast and a guest named Dr. Paul Flanner arrive. The only guest at the inn, Flanner is not on a weekend escape but rather is there to face his own crisis of conscience. Now, with the storm closing in, the two turn to each other for comfort and, in one magical weekend, set in motion a life-changing romance that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives.”
What I thought of the movie: I was right. This movie is no different. Oh sweet Lord was it terrible. And, as I said, the worst thing is that it was the SAME. The same miserable, manipulative, grating nonsense as in most of the other movies. I don’t understand how he gets away with it. Do people forget about the other ones? Do they just not care? I've seen all of these now and I still need someone to explain this to me.
The first scene of the movie depicts Diane Lane frantically trying to get her kids ready for when their estranged dad arrives to pick them up for the weekend. One of her kids is played by Ann Veal (her?) Here are three important facts that are revealed about Ann Veal during this scene.
1) Her hair is dyed black (with hints of red!), thus revealing that she is one of those rebellious teens, like Miley Cyrus in The Last Song. Black hair dye = rebellious.
2) She has a tattoo on her stomach, a fact she chooses to reveal to her mom for the first time, out of nowhere, as she’s getting ready to go off with her dad for the weekend. This may be the most unrealistic thing in the entire movie.
3) She has an O.A.R. poster on her bedroom wall.
Diane is flustered because her husband, who had gone off with some other woman, now wants back into the family. She goes off for the weekend to look after her friend’s enormous beach house inn thing in mythical Rodanthe. (Yes I know that Rodanthe actually exists, but because of how the movie depicts the town I’m gonna call it “mythical Rodanthe.” Kind of like Brigadoon.)
We should talk about this house. This is what it looks like. It’s like Nicholas Sparks’s fever dream come to life. He must have pissed himself when the location scouts found it. It is LIT'RALLY on the water. There are a dozen balconies and thirty bay windows and eighty rooms. Lots of space for men to sit and think and write letters and brood. Also, there are hurricane warnings throughout the film, which raises the question of how this house, located lit’rally on the water on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is still standing. We’ll get to it.
So the only guest for the weekend is a gloomy Richard Gere. He’s the only other person there. Just to be clear, RIchard Gere and Diane Lane are by themselves for the weekend in a huge, impossibly romantic house on the water as a hurricane bears down on them. There are ZERO obstacles to them doing the do. Sure, they’ve got baggage, but we all have baggage. Usually there’s more than baggage, like, her roommate is home, or he lives with his parents, or their families are at war with each other. But these two might as well be in bed already.
After acting like a petulant child for a little bit, he opens up to her. He's sad because he was operating on some woman and she died. Her husband, who lives in mythical Rodanthe, sues him for wrongful death, but then writes to Gere saying he wants to talk. When they do talk, Gere explains what went wrong. The husband asks him what color his wife’s eyes were, which seems like one of those Katie Couric gotcha questions to me, and when Gere can’t answer, the man leaves in a huff. Diane Lane, crazily, criticizes Gere for “defending himself” rather than empathizing with the man. Gere points out that the man is suing him, so, I mean, that’s what you do. I cannot summon the energy to care about any of this.
Then the hurricane comes. They’ve known about it for days, but apparently they forgot to close all the windows, so they go around doing that for a few minutes as the music intensifies. The power goes out and they both look terrified, like it’s a horror movie, and the killer’s just cut the lights. IT’S A HURRICANE. What did you think was going to happen? Then Gere saves Lane from a falling bookcase, and then they make out for the rest of the hurricane, which apparently barely damages the house, which, again, is LIT’RALLY right on the water. Maybe the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm or something.
That hurricane makeout sesh is all it takes for them to fall superawesomely in love, of course. Alas, after a magical day together, they have to part. Gere’s son, also a doctor, was fed up with what a shitty father Gere was, and so he went into the mountains of Ecuador and started working in a clinic there to be away from him. So Gere plans to go to Ecuador to get him to stop helping destitute people (as you do) and to also establish a real father-son relationship with him. (Also, the son is played by James Franco. Yes that’s right. He’s in like three scenes. I suppose this was part of his quest to appear in every film ever released since 2008.)
Now this is where it gets extra Sparks-y. Guess what they do to stay in touch when he’s in Ecuador? THEY WRITE EACH OTHER LETTERS DUHHHHH. Lane goes back home, rejects her hubby once and for all, magically establishes a better relationship with Ann Veal (whorebelliously cries a ton in this movie); Gere stays in Ecuador a while, works alongside his son, becomes more selfless, etc. He’s planning to return to the States to reunite with her. He says they’ll never be apart again! She’s over-the-moon excited, puts on her best dress, and waits for him to come on the appointed day.
Let’s play a game. It’s called what tragic deus ex machina does Nicholas Sparks concoct to ensure that this movie has a tragic ending. (Recall the ones he used in the previous five movies: Alzheimer’s, cancer (Greg Kinnear edition), cancer (Mandy Moore edition), a boating accident, autism/war). I was thinking that another bookcase would fall on Lane and this time Gere wouldn’t be there in time to stop it. Or that he would be murdered by Lane's jealous husband. Or even that she'd slip on a banana peel as she was walking to the front door to let him in. But no. It's just that Gere died in a mudslide in Ecuador. Of course.
After five minutes of Lane crying, she returns to mythical Rodanthe one more time to think about their magical weekend together. While on the beach, a herd of wild North Carolina horses (which she and Gere discuss earlier in the film) come a-runnin’ toward her. She falls to her knees in amazement, thinking it’s a sign or some symbol of Gere’s lasting presence even after death, but I swear to God for a split-second I thought the horses were going to trample her to death. It would have been amazing.
How I related to the movie: I came up with a new thing. In this movie, Gere is the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: the Brooding Sensitive Vulnerable Emotionally Wounded Dream Man. Something terrible has happened to him, and all he needs is to just be alone for a while and/or meet a woman who understands his pain so that he can eventually open his heart to her and then write her beautiful letters. Sparks first used this trope in Message in a Bottle. In tinkering with his magic formula, he discovered that the BSVEWDM is what gets women hot and bothered. It's like if Zooey Deschanel showed up at my huge beach house and started being adorable all over the place.
Honestly though, it was just so boring and predetermined. The only reason anyone would like this movie is if they bought how romantic it was. The two main characters are both troubled, unlucky in marriage and botching surgeries left and right, and they meet and fix each other and all that. But it didn’t take any time at all. They have dinner, they drink wine, and they're already giving each other the eyes. And then when it does happen, it’s like flipping a switch. They're in it for the long haul after five minutes. It's stupid.
How I felt after the movie ended: Every goddamn time I watch one of these, I know that it’s going to end with some manipulative tearjerking nonsense. And every time it makes me mad. If this were based on a true story, that would be one thing. But this is fiction. These people do not exist. Nicholas Sparks made them up, and did not grant them the dignity that actual human beings have. They are pawns, tools designed to make us feel sad and then be discarded.
There are no deep lessons or meaningful truths revealed in this movie. There are two people who fall in love, and at the last possible moment before they go off to live happily ever after, one of them dies. That is not a movie. That is not art. That's just mean.
But here’s the thing. I’m done now. I can now tell people I have seen all six Nicholas Sparks movies, and even though they won’t care, I will know I have accomplished something difficult. I have weathered sappy romantic platitudes and terminal illnesses and endless long tracking shots of the water, and I have survived. Taste My Success.
Epilogue: On April 20, 2012, The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron, will become the seventh Sparks novel to be adapted into a movie. It's a date.