Adrienne Willis (Lane) has recently separated from unfaithful husband, Jack (Meloni). This leads to estrangement from her teenage daughter, Amanda (Whitman). Her son, Danny, is too young and absorbed in his computer games to know exactly what's going on. While Jack takes their children on a week's vacation, Adrienne decides to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, assisting in running the inn that her long-time friend, Jean (Davis), owns.
Meanwhile, in the throws of a mid-life crisis - and guilt over a surgery gone wrong - acclaimed surgeon, Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere), decides to spontaneously visit his son, Mark (Franco), at a remote medical clinic that Mark runs in the Andes Mountains. After abruptly selling his house, and unable to fly out in less than a week, Paul opts to take a room at the same inn as Adrienne.
Together at the inn for a week, with no one else around, the two must face their own demons while slowly getting to know each other. Meanwhile, a hurricane approaches.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: In the book, Adrienne tells the story of her romance with Paul to her grown daughter Amanda several years after the fact. In the movie, Amanda is still a teenager when the romance takes place and Adrienne tells her the story in the weeks following Paul's death.
- Broken Ace: Paul is a wealthy plastic surgeon of some renown, but his personal life is a mess and he is estranged from his son.
- Caught in the Rain: Paul and Adrienne consummate their budding relationship in the middle of the big storm that's been predicted since the beginning of the film.
- Creator Thumbprint: Like many Sparks heroines, Adrienne's favorite hobby is painting.
- Downer Ending: Shortly before reuniting with Adrienne, Paul is killed in a flash mudslide.
- Follow in My Footsteps: Despite being estranged from his father, Paul's son has followed him into the medical profession.
- Fourth Date Marriage: Adrienne and Paul fall in love and commit to each other emotionally over the course of a weekend.
- Love Letter: How Paul and Adrienne communicate after their weekend in Rodanthe.
- My Greatest Failure: Paul spends a good portion of the film angsting over the death of a patient. Despite not being directly responsible (the patient had an abnormal reaction to the anesthetic), Paul still blames himself, and part of his reason for being in the Outer Banks is to make peace with her despairing family.
- Sassy Black Woman: Jean, Adrienne's best friend.
- Scenery Porn: The inn on the beach, lovingly shot from all 360 degrees when it's introduced.