A rare glimpse of midlife romance in ‘Rodanthe' deserves applause

Diane Lane has announced her retirement from acting. (And, perhaps, from being Diane Lane. I've seen her referred to as Diane Brolin after her marriage to Josh.) So if you want to see this underrated actress, you have two last chances: the upcoming “Killshot,” in which her character is chased around by a hit man named Armand “The Blackbird” Degas, or the current “Nights in Rodanthe.” I'm guessing more of her talents are on display in the latter.

George C. Wolfe, who won a Tony for directing “Angels in America” and ran the Public Theater in New York, made his name handling edgy material but seems right at home in “Rodanthe,” which adapts one of Nicholas Sparks' soothing, tea-with-honey novels. (Ann Peacock and John Romano are credited with the screenplay.)

Lane plays Adrienne Willis, who's running an inn on the Outer Banks in the brief absence of its owner. She expects four days to give her plenty of solitude – the inn has only one guest – so she can decide if she wants to let straying husband Jack (Christopher Meloni) come back.

But the guest is Paul Flanner (Richard Gere), a Raleigh surgeon whose baggage is almost entirely psychological. He has come to the Banks to meet the husband of a woman who died on his operating table (soulful Scott Glenn), and to humble himself before visiting his estranged son (James Franco) at a remote clinic in Ecuador. Paul and Adrienne are soon walking on the sand, then smooching in the attic.

The film quickly bids farewell to common sense. What high-rent beach property has one guest in September or early October, and no staff other than the proprietor to take care of him? Since when do authorities issue a hurricane warning 15 minutes before the storm hits? (And how did Paul's car, parked at the beach during that hurricane, suffer no damage at all?)

However, the film's more concerned with internal reality than physical reality. Gere shows genuine weakness and sadness for one of the few times in his career – those traits don't come easily to him as an actor – and Lane's emotions spill over from her gut into her expressive face.

Yes, the movie solves certain problems too easily, and Wolfe and his writers can't resist one painfully soppy metaphor at the end. (I haven't read the novel, but I'll bet Sparks is responsible for it.)

Yet this is one of the increasingly rare Hollywood films that treat people in middle age as though their feelings were just as intense and their needs just as valid as those of people half their age. The scarcity of such stories – especially for women – is apparently one of the reasons Lane is withdrawing from acting, so we should be grateful that one has come along.