George C. Wolfe is a theater director famous for mounting African-American plays (including Topdog/Underdog and Jelly's Last Jam) and conceiving and directing Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk. So it's ironic that this icon of the black stage makes his big-screen directorial debut with perhaps the whitest film ever made, Nights In Rodanthe, an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' schmaltzy romance. The film is so hopelessly Caucasian that it makes Sparks' The Notebook look like Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song by comparison: Seldom has a film been more devoid of either funk or noise. Nights In Rodanthe isn't wholly lacking black content—Richard Gere and Diane Lane's romance begins in a charming bed-and-breakfast owned by Lane's spunky black best friend Viola Davis, and the two bond over their love of black music. But these splashes of soul somehow only make the film whiter. There's nothing in the world more vanilla than Lane dancing awkwardly to funky soul music.
Nights In Rodanthe casts Lane as an unthreateningly pretty mother who leaves her children with her estranged husband (Christopher Meloni) so she can look after Davis' quaint establishment. This involves attending to its only customer, Handsome Doctor Richard Gere, a lost soul harboring dark secrets and unfinished business involving his son, Handsome Doctor Jr. James Franco, and Scott Glenn, the widower of a patient Gere lost on the operating table. While a storm threatens their homey little paradise, Lane breaks through Gere's defenses and a tender romance blossoms.
Gere sleepwalks through yet another tired variation on an archetype he's been playing since Pretty Woman: the white knight who desperately needs to be saved by an earthy woman who can see past his brusque façade and workaholic ways to the vulnerable, aching man underneath. Rodanthe gives itself wholeheartedly to romance-novel melodrama in its Lifetime-friendly third act. Every line of overheated dialogue would look at home stitched onto a tasteful throw pillow, or accompanied by images of wild horses and a sunset on a poster. The film's unbearable whiteness of being eventually becomes oppressive: You can practically smell the vanilla candles, comfy-yet-fashionable sweaters, and rough, life-affirming coastal air. This isn't a movie: it's a feature-length Ralph Lauren commercial.