I've written before about my aversion to the term "chick flick." I generally find the term demeaning, but it's also misleading because a good movie can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of gender. There are, however, some occasions where use of the term is justified. To me, a chick flick is a movie that is pre-programmed to hit very specific and stereotypical beats that the filmmakers hope will elicit a knee-jerk reaction in viewers of the fairer sex. In other words, it's an almost Pavlovian stimulus/response set-up that is generally more clinical than artistic in execution. The line can be extremely thin. Take, for example, The Notebook, viewed by many to be the Ultimate Chick Flick. Not so. While that picture did indeed have all the requisite components of a "romantic drama," it was artfully made, with strong performances and an emotional arc that earned its tearjerker ending. (Guys, if you don't believe me, feel free to check it out for yourselves. No, seriously, go rent it. I mean it.)
At the other end of the spectrum, you have Nights in Rodanthe, available on DVD and Blu-Ray starting Feb. 10. It's a movie that left my wife in tears and me rolling my eyes. The difference between it and The Notebook - which left my wife in tears and me…well…with a lump in my throat, let's just say - is that this movie wears its pre-fabrication on its sleeve. Watching it (for an analytical guy, at least) is like looking at a watch with the back removed; you can see all the cogs and wheels turning. There's no surprise or sense of being swept into the story. You just hear the ticking of the seconds passing you by.
The always-wonderful-even-in-movies-that-are-beneath-her Diane Lane plays Adrienne Willis, a mother-of-two whose husband Jack (Christopher Meloni) has just asked to reconcile after their separation. She's not sure whether she wants to take him back, so when best friend Jean (Doubt's Viola Davis) asks her to mind an inn on the shores of the Outer Banks for a weekend, Adrienne figures it's a good excuse to get away and sort things out. The inn has just one guest, Dr. Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a cosmetic surgeon who has come to the OB to cope with the death of a patient on his operating table.
I think you know what happens here, whether you've seen Nights in Rodanthe or not. Adrienne and Paul talk, dance to an oldie, make goo-goo eyes at each other, and confess their deepest darkest secrets. In Paul's case, those involve an estranged son, played by the uncredited James Franco, who oddly looks more stoned here than he did in Pineapple Express. Adrienne and Paul make love. They heal each other. And, of course, there is one other thing that always happens in romantic dramas, but I couldn't possibly allude to that here because it would be a spoiler. Or would it? Literally about ten seconds into the film, my wife turned to me and said, "Is this movie going to be sad?" Rule #1 of Chick Flicks: send 'em home clutching their Kleenex and they'll overlook any flaws the picture may have.
I probably sounded like a male chauvinist pig right there, and I'm sorry because I don't mean to. I'm the dude who liked The Notebook, remember? Besides - the "guy movie" equivalent of that is "blow something up real big at the end and they'll overlook any flaws the picture may have." That door swings both ways, folks.
The truth is that Nights in Rodanthe isn't all bad. The chemistry between Diane Lane and Richard Gere has been proven before (see Unfaithful) so there are definitely some sparks thrown. Scott Glenn also appears, as the widower of Paul's patient. Any movie that features Scott Glenn is automatically a little bit better simply because of his presence. Also, the scenery will make you want to drop everything and schedule a vacation in the Outer Banks.
Beyond those things, though, it's slow going if you're not into the formula because there's nothing here to vary it. Nights in Rodanthe is made in a very workman-like fashion. It follows the blueprint to a T, never varying it, never adding anything new, and never trying to elevate it beyond the level of generic chick flick-dom. I didn't believe that Adrienne and Paul really loved each other; I believed they felt what the screenplay required them to feel. When the "deep" and "poignant" ending arrived, I wasn't buying it (as I did with The Notebook) because the film hadn't earned my emotions or my investment in their romance. Instead, it just tugged on the old heartstrings in a very familiar, predictable way.
Take a second now and think about how many chick flicks have sad endings. The numbers really add up, don't they? Don't shoot me - I'm just the messenger. The fact is that many female moviegoers want a romantic tear-jerker to swoon over. That's exactly what Nights in Rodanthe is - the cinematic equivalent of a Harlequin novel with a pack of tissues shoved into the back cover. There is most definitely an audience for the film, and anyone looking for another version of that age-old, pre-programmed tune will love it.
And then there are us guys…
( out of four)
Nights in Rodanthe hits DVD and Blu-Ray on Feb. 10. The DVD comes with both fullscreen and widescreen on the same disc, while the Blu-Ray is widescreen only.
As part of a somewhat disturbing overall trend in home video sales, the DVD comes with no special features whatsoever, while the Blu-Ray comes loaded with them. As per the press notes, here's what you'll find in that format:
Nights in Rodanthe is rated PG-13 for some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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