There’s a newly released Diane Lane movie that’s an absolute must-see. She stars as a teenager who escapes her grim town by forming a punk band and eventually inspiring young girls everywhere with her anti-authoritarian music and …
What’s that? We’re not talking about the 1980 riot-grrrl classic “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains,” recently made available on video for the first time ever?
You want to know about “Nights in Rodanthe”? Oh.
In yet another gooey adaptation of a popular, treacly novel by Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Message in a Bottle”), Lane stars as Adrienne, a suburban wife and mother who takes a week off to care take a beachside inn for her friend Jean (Viola Davis), the hotel’s owner, who’s on vacation. She needs the time away to think about whether or not to take back her estranged, philandering husband Jack (Christopher Meloni).
The one guest at the inn is Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), who’s there to sort out issues of his own. He recently lost a female patient on the operating table, and the woman’s husband (Scott Glenn) — who is suing Paul for negligence — has asked the surgeon to come to the seaside town of Rodanthe, N.C., for a chat.
As a literal hurricane is bearing down on the inn — which defies all laws of logic and architecture by standing right on the beach itself — a metaphorical one swirls about Adrienne and Paul, who realize that they’re meant for each other. And as the storm pushes them into each other’s arms (a moment which, depending on your temperament, will make you swoon or scream with laughter), they heal each other’s wounds and teach each other how to love all over again.
The phrase “chick flick” hardly captures the scale of female fantasy going on in “Nights in Rodanthe.” First of all, you get to be Diane Lane, mother of two, still trim and gorgeous and with a trunk full of woodworking tools in the attic waiting for you to rediscover your muse. Add to that the fact that you have a choice between two gorgeous men — the manly Meloni, who’s dying to return to your bed and is begging your forgiveness, and Gere, the sensitive doctor who’s rocking your world with the best sex you’ve ever had while encouraging you to appreciate your worth. Late in the film, Adrienne even gets an apology from her bratty Goth teenage daughter (Mae Whitman) for her bratty Goth behavior.
All that’s missing is the part where she eats chocolate-covered cheesecake in order to make her thighs slimmer.
Lane, of course, puts her shoulder to this ludicrous screenplay (by Ann Peacock and John Romano) and gives it her all, even though she’s way too talented for such codswallop. (Also above the material? George C. Wolfe, the director of Broadway’s “Angels in America” plays, making his feature theatrical debut. Apart from some jarring “Moulin Rouge”–esque editing early on to show his characters’ fractured mental states, he plays it straight and efficiently, perhaps hoping to convince studio suits to trust him with the money to make a real movie next time.)
It’s to the point where you want to send Lane — as well as Davis, who does what she can with the “white heroine’s one black friend” role — to France for a year to make movies with François Ozon, André Téchiné and anyone else who can actually craft interesting and challenging roles for women. (The exchange program would also include long lunches featuring Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and many bottles of really good red wine.)
Many critics will no doubt tar this film with the dreaded “Lifetime movie” epithet, but I’d venture a bit further — “Nights in Rodanthe” is the world’s longest General Foods International Coffee commercial.