Serious Moonlight (2009) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for language and some violence
Running time: 84 min.
Cast: Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Justin Long, Kristen Bell
Director: Cheryl Hines
Screenplay: Adrienne Shelly
Successful lawyer Louise (Ryan, My Mom's New Boyfriend) comes home to find a surprise -- her husband Ian (Hutton, The Good Shepherd) has planned a romantic evening, but it's not for her. Ian announces that he's fallen out of love with her, and he's leaving to take a trip to Paris with his new love Sara (Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), a hot blonde nearly half her age. Louise isn't going to let Ian get away without truly knowing if things are over, and she's convinced that they can work it out. To keep him from leaving, she wraps Ian in duct tape and won't let him go until he reconciles. Ian's understandably miffed and stubborn, and things go from bad to worse when a burglar (Long, Zack and Miri) stumbles upon the house and makes it his own, with Ian and a rather defenseless Louise unable to do anything about it.
The late Adrienne Shelly (I'll Take You There) wrote the screenplay for Serious Moonlight not long before her murder in late 2006. However, her death didn't stop those who loved her, especially Shelly's husband (who serves as producer) from pressing for her script to see the silver screen, and it would mark the debut directorial stint for Shelly's costar in her last previous work, Waitress, Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm").
Unfortunately for those who wished to honor Shelly's work, the film that bears her name on the screenplay is a misfire as a film. Perhaps as a play, such a limited scope work (set mostly in a couple of rooms of the house) might have been enough to merit a mildly entertaining diversion, but as a full-fledged movie with some star power, it mostly disappoints. It's difficult to say what Shelly would have done with the film, as she usually directed her quirky screenplays with equally quirky inventiveness. Hines doesn't do a poor job in her first effort behind the camera, but Shelly's writing requires an offbeat approach that she doesn't put in here. Perhaps they were too reverent in not changing anything about her writing, even when it might have been obvious that there were problematic parts that normally would have been ironed out during production. What's more, the characters should also live within this slightly off-kilter universe. Meg Ryan has her appeal, but playing a would-be ex-wife impetuous enough to string up her husband doesn't play well. She's too familiar and sensible to play anything other than normal.
That's not to say that Shelly would had been a guaranteed winner with her screenplay if she were at the helm, as it is a very difficult balance between black humor, slapstick and a rather ugly side of love. Hines does keep the tone light even during the darker moments, but light doesn't always mean funny. It's difficult enough to watch a man duct taped to a toilet (presumably so she doesn't have to free him to use the restroom) when you know he can't flush or clean himself after use. That, and it's hard to imagine such a woman with this much resolve want so desperately to keep a husband who has been cheating on her for a long while, claims he has no love for her, and repeatedly lies to her throughout the ordeal. Winning is sometimes enough, but does she really want to keep the prize once won?
The supporting cast of Long and Bell are shallow and unappealing as the two home wreckers, one literal and the other figurative. Once Long takes over the house and proceeds to vandalize whatever he can get his hands on, it becomes noisy, tired and largely tasteless -- not to mention a wry twist ending that many viewers will have seen coming long before it occurs.
At only 84 minutes, it's not insufferable for curious fans of Shelly or Ryan to sit through, but asking for a repeat viewing might require some of that leftover duct tape. I'm loathe to criticize Shelly for this unappealing comedy, but to make such a bitter pill palatable, it would have taken someone completely in tune with what Shelly may have had in mind when she sat down to write what might appear to be, on paper, one of her lesser works. On the one hand, I understand, given the tragedy of her death, what would love those around her to produce what writing she has left behind. On the other, perhaps her memory as a filmmaker should have remained that which she was able to bring to life herself, rather than the well-meaning but less-than-whimsical treatments that make her work look like it is hardly worth making at all.
©2010 Vince Leo