Serious Moonlight (Magnolia Pictures, R)

film_serious-moonlight_sm.jpgWhat is it, then? An edgy domestic farce trying to balance comical elements with suspense?

 

film_serious-moonlight.jpg 

Serious Moonlight is not a very good movie, but as a clear example of tonal schizophrenia, it’s a fascinating case study. You go in expecting some sort of Meg Ryan rom-com—that’s what the ads seem to convey—but then all what the heck breaks loose.

Ryan plays an attorney named Louise, one half of an upscale suburbanite couple with very different ideas about where things stand between them. Louise thinks all is well, but husband Ian (Timothy Hutton) is drafting a letter informing Louise that he’s about to run off to Paris with Sara (Kristen Bell), the younger dish he’s fallen madly for. Louise comes home prematurely from an outing to find rose petals all over the stairs and thinks that her hubby has planned a long-awaited night of passion. When he’s forced to admit that not only was the setup not for Louise, but that in fact, he no longer loves her, the missus just can’t swallow it. "You’re not going to Paris!" she tells Ian matter-of-factly, informing him that he simply has to stay home and talk his feelings out with her, so he’ll realize he truly does love her and quit with this nonsensical talk about another woman.

It’s a bit unsettling to hear the Meg Ryan of her Tom Hanks/Billy Crystal co-starring heyday aggressively denying reality as she does in these scenes, especially after she knocks Ian out and ties him to a toilet so he is essentially forced to converse with her and face the impact of his decisions. You already want to groan under the weight of the movie’s premise, when yet another improbable event—the arrival of a creepy, sadistic burglar named Todd (Justin Long, playing jarringly against type)—makes things even more unsettling.

Although there have been some laughs to this point, the shrillness of the dialogue between Ryan and Hutton, with the latter abrasively screaming at times, casts a somber tone over the proceedings, and the desperate complications introduced by Long’s character pretty much wipe out any chance of the movie continuing as a comedy. So what is it, then? An edgy domestic farce trying to balance comical elements with suspense? A character study of a trapped couple exploring the history of their relationship under great duress? A dark screenplay by the late Adrienne Shelly (Waitress) that director Cheryl Hines simply couldn’t figure out how to find a consistent tone for? Yes and no, maybe. Can we talk about it later?

At any rate, the unexpected threat of violence in the film, its rapid switch from a testy relationship farce to a domestic imprisonment pressure cooker, and the unhinged performances by all four actors combine to make this a very unsettling piece of celluloid. It’s hard to discern Hines’ aesthetic here, because there is something fractured about the tone, as stated earlier, that weakens the comic moments and intensifies the darker ones. Hutton does turn in a rather brave performance at times, and there are bits of truth in the way he’s forced to contemplate his feelings for his wife when she’s in danger. But Ryan, an often endearing actress who has chosen questionable projects in the past decade, never seems quite grounded in reality here, or even in the movie itself. It’s simply impossible to suss out this movie’s raison d’etre, and it’s an uncomfortable experience almost from start to finish. | Kevin Renick

 

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