Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hines' & Shelly's SERIOUS MOONLIGHT is smart -- and serious -- about love

LIGHT is an impor-
tant film. What's so odd about this is that the movie doesn't look, sound or act important. It's cer-
tainly not "artistic," but is rather a simple little journeyman effort in terms of style -- this is actress Cheryl Hines' first turn as director (she is shown just below) -- with perfectly acceptable cinema-
tography, editing, sound and other technical credits, plus good performances from its quartet ensemble that are quite suitable to the subject at hand. What it does with its subject, however, is what rings the bell.

That subject is love, which is up there with the most-overused and little-understood themes that movies come back to again and again. But Serious Moonlight is not about the entry-level phase -- the limerence part of the equation -- that most films prefer to tackle. Instead it goes right to the heart of love in a long-term relationship and asks what this means and how it might be salvaged when in trouble. In short: What does it take to make a man realize what a long-term, loving relationship is worth? Except that the movie doesn't ask the question outright. And this will probably confound a lot of critics (but not, I hope, the mature audience for whom this film is intended) into taking it at face value as a "crazy" comedy about a woman who discovers her husband's been cheating on her and literally ties him down until he comes to his senses.

Hines is working from a screenplay by the late and increasingly lamented Adrienne Shelly (Waitress was a good film; this one's even better) that sets up the situation in rather simple terms. These work nicely as a comedy/shaggy-dog-story and Hines draws believable and funny performances from her two leads, Meg Ryan (shown above) and Timothy Hutton (shown below). Ryan in partic-
ular continues to grow as an actress, taking on challenging roles and doing a lot with them (Against the Ropes, In the Land of Wo-
men, My Mom's New Boyfriend and the remake of The Women) even if the films themselves have proven lackluster or worse. Don't miss her and William H. Macy in the very clever and funny Holly-
wood satire The Deal (click here and then scroll down for my review), the best of her recent films (until this one) which, of course, went straight to video. Hutton, too, has one of his better roles here, and he plays to a tee the initially shoddy, then long-suffering, and then increasingly thoughtful husband.

You can enjoy Serious Moonlight on a simple, situation-comedy level and leave the theater with a smile on your face. It's afterward, the more you think about the film, that it begins to deepen. Even if you glom onto what's actually happening early on, as I did, this should not spoil your enjoyment, for you can put this sudden understan-
ding to use as you watch the characters interacting. It will add yet another layer to the goings-on. To her everlasting credit, Ms Shelly refused to spell out her point. It's there, all right, big as life, as the Ryan character is faced with the knowledge that unless she does something huge and immediate, the relationship is going to dissolve. Yet this is an impossible situation for, really, how could anything, anyone save it?

What happens and how this changes and deepens the situation is interesting enough, but Shelly's screenplay also delves into -- again, never explicitly -- the differences between men and women, what they want and how they get it. Also on board are Justin Long (shown below) in a role that is better left un-described and Kristen Bell (shown above) as the "other woman." Both are fine, particu-
larly Mr. Long, who is given more -- and more bizarre -- screen time.

I'd like to think that Serious Moonlight will appeal to a wide audience, but perhaps only those old enough to have lived through a long-term relationship can best appreciate it. Maybe younger audiences can simply enjoy the comic situation and the hay the cast makes of it. Young or old, give it a try. The movie, distributed by Magnolia Pictures, opens theatrically on Friday, December 4, in several cities, and rolls out to other location in the weeks that follow. Click here for playdates. It is also available On-Demand, so check your local TV-reception provider for details.

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