Sunday, 19 August 2012

Nights in Rodanthe (2008)

Dir. George C. Wolfe
Starring: Richard Gere, Diane Lane, James Franco, Viola Davis 

On the storm-lashed shore of North Carolina’s Outer Banks Adrienne (Diane Lane) finds a twisted and warped piece of driftwood. She resolves to fashion it into a keepsake box. Legend has it that such a box will protect the contents placed within. The more ugly and battered the wood, the greater power it has when it is made into something beautiful.

That, you see, is a metaphor. In the world of Nights of Rodanthe it is a metaphor for the two lonely and troubled souls who find themselves in each other’s arms in an out of season hotel. Adrienne has been hurt by her husband leaving her and conflicted by his expressed desire to return. She put her own life, ambitions and career on hold to be a good wife and mother; when her son is hospitalised by an asthma attack hundreds of miles away in Florida she questions whether she is even that. Paul (Richard Gere) likewise gave up part of his life. He scarificed his role as a husband and father to be the best doctor he could be. Now, haunted by the death of a local woman on his operating table, he is forced to question whether the loss of his wife and son was worth it. These two battered individuals have washed up here on the sand. The question is, can they make something beautiful between them? 

Of course they can. Paul gives Adrienne the strength she needs to choose her own path, whether her ex-husband and children like it or not. And she gives Paul the compassion and humanity to reconnect with his son Mark (James Franco) who is working as a doctor in remotest Ecuador (we can tell that it’s Ecuador: the scenes there have a pan-pipe soundtrack). They become better people through knowing each other. The film is entirely predictable. Both Adrienne and Paul are entirely blameless for their problems. They have a glass of wine, they experience a moment of mild peril in a storm… of course they are going to end up in bed together. The one surprise is that there isn’t a happy ending. Look away now if you don’t want to know the ending (SPOILER ALERT!), but Paul is drowned by a flood of crap. After watching Nights in Rodanthe I know how he must have felt. 

There are positives to the film. It has a nice setting. The sand flats and dunes of the Outer Banks, with the wide grey Atlantic behind, form a nice back-drop. And the bed and breakfast of Adrienne’s best friend Jean (The Help’s Viola Davis) is quirky and characterful. Almost too quirky and characterful. It looks like a set from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: a tall, slightly ramshackle, clapboard house teetering on the tideline. The interior (clearly a set rather than the actual seafront property) is crammed eccentrically with local art and crafts. It is a nice enough place for two bruised individuals to hide away from the world. But the spiritual and healing house was all just part of the heavy-handed metaphors the film employs. At the end of the film Adrienne returns to Rodanthe, and what should she see running down the beach but the ‘Bankers’ the wild horses of the area, descendents of those steeds who were shipwrecked in times gone by. They too are a wild, glorious metaphor of… something. I’m not sure what. I suppose they were strong enough to escape their servitude and now represent freedom. Adrienne herself is now free. 

Passion probably wouldn't have flared had they stayed
at the Linton Travel Tavern (off Junction 9 of the M11)

The film Nights in Rodanthe is based upon a novel by bestselling author Nicholas Sparks. Sparks sets many of his novels in his home state of North Carolina: Message in a Bottle, The Last Song, Dear John, The Notebook. And so many of them have now been turned into movies (though The Notebook was relocated to South Carolina when it was filmed). Frankly, after seeing this I do not feel much urge to see any of the others. Let’s hope it was just a bad adaptation. 

What have I learnt about North Carolina?
The one strength of Nights in Rodanthe is its local colour. We travel from Raleigh (pronounced ‘Rar-lee’, not ‘Ralley’) to the coast, over by ferry to the sand spit islands. Here there is a community of salt-lashed fishermen and old timers, battered by never beaten by the area’s frequent hurricanes. They have joyous celebratory festivals when a storm passes, gorging on crabs on crckers and dancing on the piers to the music of double bass, fiddle, Jew’s harp and washboard. Or that is what the tale would have you believe. The islands are populated by wild horses, descendents of shipwreck survivors. There are legends about pirates like Edward Teach ('Blackbeard'). There are other superstitions held by by the locals too, like Jean’s great-grandmother, whose tales about spirits and tradition still resonate.

Can we go there?
Nights in Rodanthe was filmed in Rodanthe and North Topsail Beach. Both are on Hatteras Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Paul and Adrienne dance on Rodanthe Pier. And Jean’s characterful bed and breakfast really exists. The building is called Serendipity and is a rental house. Shortly after the film was released the building was actually damaged in a storm. Its present owner paid for the entire building to be moved further south and further inland and plan to open it for business again, albeit without the tide sweeping around its piles. It should be pointed out that the interiors were filmed on sets, rather than in the building. However, the owners have announced that they intend to redesign the interior to resemble those seen on screen, so you too could give in to passion in the Blue Room. If that floats your boat.

Overall Rating: 1/5

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