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Nights in Rodanthe: Wan weepie
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A hopeless romantic, Nicholas Sparks seems to have Hollywood's number. Four of his novels have been converted into movies, one of which, The Notebook, I actually liked. And now here's Nights in Rodanthe, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane as two ships who pass in the night, then dock in each other's harbor. It's what used to be called a weepie, and although there was profuse sniffling at the screening I attended, including what I hope sounded like a mere runny nose on the part of yours truly, I've learned over time that the amount of weeping at a weepie isn't all that related to the quality of the weepie. In my case, it's the sight and sound of someone else weeping that sets me off, and let me tell you something, people, there's a lot of weeping in Nights in Rodanthe.

Diane Lane, in particular, opens the floodgates and lets it flow, including one jag that's truly award-worthy. She's playing a recently separated mother of two whose husband wants to come back home, and I can see why women pull for Lane, despite her Hollywood glamour. There's an understated grace and dignity that seem like something other than vanity: She's the pretty girl in your high school class who didn't seem stuck on herself. Here, she's also a mother who's given up everything for her family, an artist who means to get back to it someday but probably won't until her kids are safely in college. Meanwhile, while subbing for a friend whose bed-and-breakfast dips its toes into the cool, blue water off North Carolina's Outer Banks, she meets a tall, dark and handsome stranger.

Actually, it's Richard Gere, still doing that silver-fox routine he's gotten a whole second career out of. He and Lane were involved once before, in Unfaithful, where adultery reared its ugly head. But that was a solid piece of work with genuine emotion, whereas Nights in Rodanthe is pure fluff, a romance novel that crudely installs a series of buttons, then starts pushing them. Gere's playing a doctor who's always put everything into his work and nothing into his wife and son, both of whom have gone on in life without him. So it's a mutual you-complete-me situation. Gere can teach Lane how to work on her own stuff more, be more selfish, and she can teach him how to work less, be less selfish. Win-win! In the meantime, there's one of those life-altering hurricanes headed this way.

It wreaks havoc on the B&B, which is so charming, in a ramshackle way, that you wish your own house weren't so boringly sturdy. Speaking of which, are women really buying the Gere thing? He seems solid, but uninspiring, which turns the movie into a rather voyeuristic melodrama: When Bad Things Happen to Good-Looking People. Scott Glenn appears briefly as the husband of a woman who died on Gere's operating table, and he nearly burns a hole in the screen, so fiercely alive is his performance. Why not a little more of that and a little less canned emotion? I know, I know, it's a glorified fairy tale, where everybody lives sappily ever after. Or is it? For those of you who missed the hardback and paperpack editions, Nights in Rodanthe has a surprise up its sleeve, right next to its heart.

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