While picking up his son and daughter for a weekend visit, Jack (Christopher Meloni) tells his estranged wife Adrienne (Diane Lane) that he still "loves her" and wants to move back home. (It is made clear that Jack left his family for another woman.) Adrienne suggests that his remorse is due to his falling out with the other woman, but in any event says she needs time and space to think. The rift that this causes between the daughter and her mother is palpable. Typical teenage angst and rebellion follow and Adrienne is sure she is losing her daughter over the events that are unfolding in her marriage.
Adrienne drives to Rodanthe, North Carolina, to look after a friend's bed-and-breakfast for the weekend while she's away. The house is rustic, romantic, and right on the beach, and partially in the surf at high tide.
The only guest for the weekend is Paul (Richard Gere), a surgeon with a very Type A personality, who arrives at the inn with his own emotional baggage. He has flashbacks of a surgery which ended tragically. The family of the patient, who live in Rodanthe, is suing him. The husband wrote to Paul asking to speak to him; this is what brings him to Rodanthe.
A storm moves in and Paul and Adrienne team up to protect the inn. They dine together, share stories, and eventually turn to each other for emotional comfort. A genuine romance is born. With Adrienne’s advice and moral support, Paul opens up to the patient's widower and in doing so faces his own pain.
Paul carries guilt for passing up a relationship with his son in favor of his career and decides to go down to South America to salvage his relationship with his son. Paul is now very reluctant to leave Adrienne and Rodanthe but he knows that he must go to his estranged son Mark (James Franco) who left his stressful practice with his workaholic dad to become a physician there ("a Doctors Without Borders type of thing").
During their separation, Adrienne and Paul exchange numerous handwritten letters expressing their longing to be with each other once again. On the evening that Adrienne and Paul are to finally reunite, he does not show up. Adrienne is unable to determine if he caught his flight back from South America from the airlines. Unfortunately, Paul has been killed in a flash mudslide. His son, Mark, arrives at Adrienne's door the following day with a box of Paul's personal belongings, as well as gratitude to Adrienne for "giving him back the father he knew when he was a child".
Adrienne is seen struggling, for what appears to be days or weeks, with a nearly unbearable grief. Eventually, her daughter (wiser and more mature now) is able to coax the story from her mother. This is a turning point for their relationship and it allows Adrienne to begin to deal with her loss. She tells her daughter the story of a very special type of love and encourages her daughter to seek that out for herself someday.
Adrienne finally is granted a respite from her heart-rending sadness when, during a solitary sojourn along the beach on a strikingly beautiful day, she looks up to see a small herd of magnificent wild horses go thundering on by her. She, her children and her best friend walk down to the dock where Adrienne and Paul had danced, and Adrienne is finally able to kiss Paul goodbye.Diane Lane as Adrienne Willis
Richard Gere as Dr. Paul Flanner
James Franco as Dr. Mark Flanner
Scott Glenn as Robert Torrelson
Christopher Meloni as Jack Willis
Viola Davis as Jean
Pablo Schreiber as Charlie Torrelson
Mae Whitman as Amanda Willis
Charlie Tahan as Danny Willis
The house was damaged in a hurricane after the movie was filmed. New owners bought the house and relocated it to another part of the Outer Banks. Tourists to the area can rent portions of the house and stay in specific rooms that have been remodeled to appear as they did in the film (actual interior scenes were filmed on sound stages). The name of the house is Serendipity.
Nights in Rodanthe has grossed $41,850,659 in North America and $42,524,402 in other territories for a worldwide total of $84,375,061.
In its opening weekend, the film grossed $13,418,454, finishing second at the box office behind Eagle Eye ($59,585,930). It became Warner Bros.' second highest-grossing film of 2008.
According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the critical consensus holds that the film is "derivative and schmaltzy" and "strongly mottled by contrivances that even the charisma of stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere can't repair". The site rates the movie as "rotten", with a score of 30% based on 132 reviews. Metacritic scored the film with a 39/100, or "generally negative", based on 26 critics' reviews. Although the movie was panned, it grossed $84,375,061 worldwide.
The Times included Nights in Rodanthe on its 100 Worst Films of 2008 list. In 2010, Time magazine named it one of the 10 worst chick flicks ever made.
Nights in Rodanthe was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 10, 2009.