Thursday, December 03, 2009

Adrienne Shelly’s Serious Moonlight

Being DINKS (double incomes, no kids), money is not a problem for Louise and Ian. Although she does not know it yet, pretty much everything else is. Their marriage is in for a rocky patch in a new film based on an original screenplay by the late actress-screenwriter-director Adrienne Shelly, who was tragically murdered by an illegal alien just over two years ago, before her breakout indie hit Waitress was released theatrically. Though the new film is far from perfect, Shelly clearly had a flair for dialogue, which comes through loud and clear in Cheryl Hines’s Serious Moonlight (trailer here), which opens Friday in select cities.

Planning to meet her husband for a few quiet days in their country home, Louise comes a few days early to surprise him. She surprises him alright, catching him prepping for an assignation with his mistress. It turns out Ian was about to run off to Paris with his much younger lover, but Louise, ever the resourceful advocate, puts a stop to it by knocking him unconscious and duct-taping him to a chair.

Of course, being held hostage does not exactly melt Ian’s heart, as he makes painfully clearly in some smartly cutting exchanges. They definitely sound like a real married couple, because they know exactly what to say to hurt each other most. Unfortunately, the situations they find themselves in are more than a little contrived, especially when the gardener decides to take advantage of Ian’s indisposition to rob them blind and terrorize Louise. Somehow, Ian, Louise, and the other woman all end up locked in the bathroom as the dude from the Apple commercials (Jeremy Long) trashes the house with his biker friends.

In a way, Moonlight feels a bit dated, bringing to mind wish-fulfillment movies of the 1980’s, like 9 to 5, in this case substituting an unfaithful husband for the loutish boss. Indeed, lead actors Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton seem like shallow refugees from the past decade as the bickering couple. They do dig into Shelly’s juicy lines though.

Still, the tenor of the film is more than a little odd. While it presents itself as a romantic black comedy, it is not particularly funny or romantic. Neither is it consistently dark, which makes the gardener’s threats of sexual violence especially jarring. Perhaps most annoying is a surprise ending so obvious viewers will spend most of the film hoping it will not come to pass.

To be fair, Moonlight is a very well put together film. Cinematographer Nancy Schreiber makes the countryside sparkle and the Madeleine Peyroux tune playing over the opening titles hits the right flirtatious notes. Yet, the tone of the film is just too muddled and the payoff is sabotaged by the standard issue twist. Moonlight has its merits and could have been a very good film if Shelly had been able to further refine her screenplay. Sadly, she would not have the chance. A well-intentioned film, Moonlight just never fully jells. It opens tomorrow (12/4) at the Village East.