Gere-Lane III: Passion on the Outer Banks

rex 3 Gere Lane III: Passion on the Outer BanksNights In Rodanthe
98 minutes
Written by Ann Peacock and John Romano
Directed by George C. Wolfe
Starring Diane Lane, Richard Gere, Viola Davis, Scott Glenn, Christopher Meloni

While the rest of the world is having a noisy nervous breakdown, it’s good to know there are still a few folks at the movies selling feel-good fun and falling in love. Proving all is not grim and fatal, Nights in Rodanthe (an unfortunate title if ever there was one) is a classy tearjerker with butter-cream frosting, raised to the level of (maybe undeserved) artistry by the convincing sincerity and no-nonsense honesty of Diane Lane. What an actress. She could sell oil leases to Iran.

You see, you’ve forgotten the title already. Rodanthe is a remote island with a peaceful old beachside inn nestled along the Outer Banks of North Carolina where people with stress and pain go to cope. Luminous even without makeup and every inch a star without trying, Ms. Lane reunites with Richard Gere for the third time, following Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club. They fit together like five fingers in a cashmere glove. She plays Adrienne Willis, an emotionally wounded soccer mom still reeling from a nasty divorce, with a rebellious daughter and a cheating ex-husband who wants to come back home and start over as though nothing happened. Seeking a place to think and heal, she agrees to manage a friend’s rustic inn for a weekend. Mr. Gere is Paul Flanner, the only guest—a prominent Raleigh surgeon stressed out and riddled with guilt after losing a patient on the operating table while he was removing a facial cyst. At first, it’s strictly business. As he watches her vacuum, cook, carry in the groceries and attend the chores of an innkeeper, his detachment turns to bemused curiosity. She observes with friendly concern as he paces in his room, roams the beach alone and picks at his salad. Then they get a bit tight on wine and clean out the kitchen pantry, ridding the inn of old Spam, Vienna sausages and lard with a shared sense of humor they didn’t know they were hiding—laughing and loosening up while the radio warns of an oncoming storm. As the winds howl, the shutters bang and the lights go out, this pair of strangers in harm’s way come together for comfort, and compassion turns to passion. The raging storm, the contents of the wine cellar, the need for warmth and safety lead exactly where you expect, but the movie does not. These are mature adults, not impulsive kids. He has to help his son, a struggling doctor, open a clinic in South America. She has to return to the responsibility of raising two kids who need her. They make plans for a third act, but life gets in the way. By the final scene, it is unlikely that anyone who has ever sought (and deserved) a second chance at happiness will leave with dry eyes.

The suds are inevitable, feeding cynical critics unfair ammunition. I shudder to think what kind of puns they’ll dream up with the aid of a thesaurus. But to pass by Nights in Rodanthe without a glance would be denying yourself a lot of pleasure. At a time when movies have become a dumping ground for a lot of ugly violence (Bangkok Dangerous, Righteous Kill), alleged “comedies” that aren’t even vaguely amusing (Ghost Town, Burn After Reading) and a surfeit of dopey, disposable junk like Mamma Mia!, I see     nothing wrong with a little genuine, heartfelt romance. Especially when it stars someone who never makes a false move, like the sensational Ms. Lane. The way she wakes up, softly moans, turns over, reaches for the alarm and faces the day—there’s revelation in each movement. Today’s screen teams seldom if ever achieve real chemistry, but the Lane-Gere fusion is so good, sensitive and natural that they move into their roles like new skin. Utterly without pretense or self-conscious tricks of any kind, they use purity and directness to make a variety of moods seem as natural as breathing. The supporting cast is excellent—Scott Glenn as the anguished husband of Gere’s dead patient who is suing him for malpractice, Viola Davis as the wisecracking owner of the ramshackle inn, James Franco as Gere’s struggling humanitarian doctor son and, especially, Christopher Meloni, already a bankable TV star, making a bid for big-screen prominence in the small but important role of Ms. Lane’s self-centered, unfaithful husband. All of them have been directed with wisdom and intelligence by noted New York stage whiz George C. Wolfe, making a solid feature-film debut, using little brush strokes to shape the relationship between the lovers into a broader canvas of feelings, striking chords in any viewer who has loved and lost. Like all memorable movies, Nights in Rodanthe makes you feel like you’re watching life instead of watching actors. I’m making reservations immediately.

rreed@observer.com