Review: In Regards to Your Movie, ‘Nights in Rodanthe’

Due to the way he was affected by his screening of Nights in Rodanthe, Cole Abaius has decided to forego the standard review format. Instead, he will review the film in the form of an open letter to the filmmakers.
By  · Published on September 26th, 2008

Editor’s Note: Due to the way he was affected by his screening of Nights in Rodanthe, Cole Abaius has decided to forego the standard review format. Instead, he will review the film in the form of an open letter to the filmmakers.

To Whom it may concern:

My mom always told me to open up by saying something nice, so here it is. Your flashback sequences were really well done. The set design was incredible – the look of the old house was a fantastic mess of nostalgia and high-artistic living. I have no doubt that everyone in the audience hoped that that would be the house they’re assigned in Heaven. Your score, when it was there, really helped the mood advance.

However, your film’s storyline was completely absurd. To the point of non-belief. I probably would have been laughing the whole time if I hadn’t been trying desperately not to fall asleep.

Let me get this straight – a woman who’s separated from her husband goes to run her friend’s inn in Rodanthe for the weekend while a doctor visits the town to speak with the husband of a woman that died during surgery because he sent a letter. The two connect, fall in love during a hurricane and proceed in their courtship through love letters while the doctor reconnects with his son in South America. Is that about right?

First of all, doctors have a rough job. Some days are pretty brutal, but they deal with death all the time. There’s a heaviness to their occupation that they, hopefully, learn to cope with during their residencies – especially if they’re going to be surgeons. Lawsuits are pretty common, too. My point? Your storyline for why Dr. Flanner was in Rodanthe was like watching the most generic episode of General Hospital except there wasn’t an evil twin witch involved. If doctors had to drive 200 miles every time someone died on the table, they’d have invented teleportation by now.

Secondly, there’s just no way that a four-story house on stilts that waves are crashing up against during high tide could survive a hurricane. I get that they needed a dramatic occurrence to bring them together, to show that he could protect her, but are we to believe the storm surge didn’t rise just ten feet to flood the entire first floor? That a house that was allegedly built in the Civil War can withstand 72 mile per hour winds? That the worst damage in his room – which faced the water – was an overturned chair? You could have called it a storm and not just insulted the intelligence of anyone who grew up in Hurricane Alley.

On a brighter note, I had no idea that the middle-aged fantasy involved cleaning out the pantry. I, too, have always hated Spam. The scene was cathartic, and I appreciate the lesson.

Speaking of middle-aged passion, if your point was to show that older people can be just as fired up as the young, you missed the mark. At first, I thought Richard Gere and Diane Lane were going through the motions, but then I realized it’s because they had nothing to work with. They talked in generalities, they shared an awkwardly romantic moment after both drinking heavily, he shows a small-talk-level interest in her children, and all the sudden they are madly in love? The transition only worked on screen because the two actors have fascinating chemistry, but I wish that some of that love connection would have come in the form of dialog so that the rest of us could have been in on it.

I have to admit, I probably would have given a pass on your little film. I probably would have headed home shuffling my feet and finding some comfort in the emptiness of an average romance. But then, you brought out author Nicholas Sparks for a Q and A session. If you would be so kind, please pass this portion of the letter directly onto him.

I want you to know, Mr. Sparks, that it’s not the bland, formulaic purple-prose nature of your writing that bothers me. It was the smug asshole-channeling way in which you answered your audience – genuine fans who seemed interested in the most banal details of your writing process.

First of all, thanks for the long literary history lesson that wasn’t boring at all. I understand that you’re threatened when people ask how a male can write romance so well, and you probably get that question every session, but whether or not you need to respond with a timeline of Western literature in order to claim that what you write is closer to Greek Tragedy than paltry romance remains to be seen. I know what Greek Tragedy is. I went to middle school. And what you write is not Greek Tragedy.

Having something terrible happen at the end of your books does not a Greek Tragedy make. Classic tragedy stems from a character’s fatal flaw, one he never learns from, which kills him in the end. You, in fact, do the opposite. You kill, destroy, or give Alzheimer’s to truly ethical characters as a cheap way to tug at the heartstrings of your audience. You give the audience everything they want and then turn a 180 in order to ensure they cry by the end.

You also write the same story over and over. Deal with it, cash your checks, and move on. Talking about Aeschylus at length does not make your writing better. It makes you a pompous asshole.

But rest assured that while you had a major hand in this movie’s blandness via your original story, you aren’t the only culprit. It makes sense that director George C. Wolfe has worked in theater for his career, because he definitely hasn’t been behind a camera long. The only actors that really carried any weight were Viola Davis and Christopher Meloni – and they had less than 5 minutes of screen time. Focusing on Gere and Lane seemed to be where it all fell off the tracks.

Perhaps that’s the lesson. A few wispy looks and small talk do not make two people fall in love – even if they are under emotional duress to begin with. The love letters were a nice touch. The wild horses were a great metaphor for moving on with life, for being your own person, for living with abandon. Hell, there were even some really funny slice-of-life moments. But for the most part, you could have filmed zombies in a gorgeous 19th century beach house and gotten the same emotional impact. Of course, zombies wouldn’t have thrown out the Spam since, as we all know, it’s made from brains.

Yours truly,

Cole Abaius

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.