Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 3, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
’Til Mourning Comes

Brad Silberling and his characters are thrown for a loss in Moonlight Mile.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Moonlight Mile begins with a funeral for a young woman, with her parents and her fiancé chief among the mourners. As you may know, writer-director Brad Silberling (City of Angels) was in his 20s when his then-girlfriend, tv sitcom star Rebecca Schaefer, was murdered by a celebrity-stalker in 1989. His current movie is based extensively on his real-life experience. The story is set in the early 1970s instead of the late ’80s, but it depicts his relationship with Schaefer’s parents and the bond they shared in the aftermath of her death.

In this fictionalized version, Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the young man who was engaged to the murder victim. Living life in a daze, he has been taken in by her father Ben (Dustin Hoffman). Ben is pretty deep in denial; he maintains a cheerful demeanor, tends to his commercial real estate business, and expects Joe to take up his line of work. Meanwhile, Ben’s wife JoJo (Susan Sarandon) has already achieved a certain ironic distance from the grieving process — she spends a night feeding her fireplace with self-help books given by well-meaning friends, saying, “This is helpful.”

Silberling isn’t a slave to screenwriting conventions, so his movie resists tidy resolutions and predictable catharses. He has a pretty keen eye for the mostly useless ways in which other people respond to sudden bereavement. He’s also aided immensely by his two veteran actors. Hoffman’s genial warmth makes him believable as a guy who threatens to subsume Joe’s ambitions because he’s impossible to say no to. Sarandon plays her role as dryly as possible and keeps sentimentality at bay by pointedly not playing for sympathy. They never click as a couple, but they still do creditable work on their own.

For all that, though, the movie’s hard sledding. Silberling’s intentional lack of structure is supposed to resemble the rhythms of real life, but the result is monochromatic; almost any 15 minutes of this film could be mistaken for any other 15 minutes of it. The attempt at realism is also undercut by heavily symbolic gestures. The clumsily contrived courtroom scenes are almost as out of place as a strangely off-key Holly Hunter, unaccountably trying to soften the edges on her hard-charging district attorney character. Gyllenhaal is lost in the lead role, too. He’s been cast as sensitive dorks in previous movies, and he seems to have gone to this particular well once too often. The only time he really comes to life is when he snaps at a business acquaintance’s dinner-table suggestion that he’ll get over it. The resulting flash of gallows humor is gratifying in this overly tasteful film, but it isn’t enough.

Nanni Moretti’s heart-rending The Son’s Room treated a similar subject in much greater depth earlier this year. So did Anthony Minghella’s 1993 film Truly, Madly, Deeply. Moonlight Mile wants to be the next great film about loss and resignation, but even though it has the right idea, it’s too gloomy and undramatic to be effective.


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