Review: Moonlight Mile

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

The trailer for the ambiguously titled Moonlight Mile seemed to be located securely within the previews of what seemed like every screening I have seen up till its release date. It looked very promising, boasting Oscar winners Susan Sarandon, Dustin Hoffman, and Holly Hunter, and not to mention Jake Gyllenhaal who has seemed to be the indie film player of 2002. Moonlight Mile does live up to some potential in its intent, but losses its chance at a strong recommendation with some sorry mistakes.

The story of Moonlight Mile is based on the real life experience of its writer and director Brad Silberling, who was dating actress Rebecca Schaeffer at the time of her murder. In fact, Susan Sarandon reportedly wore a piece of jewelry that belonged to Rebecca’s mother.

Such a multi-layered story like the one of Moonlight Mile is not easily translated. Essentially, Moonlight Mile tells the story of Joe Nast, the fiancee of Diana Floss who was slain shortly before their wedding. Joe continues to live with Ben and JoJo, Diana’s parents after her death. Shortly after the funeral, Joe meets Bertie, the mail carrier, while attempting to retrieve all his wedding invitations. As he begins to fall for Bertie, Joe must struggle with the choice to move on with his life, or to honor the memory of Diana and stay with Ben and JoJo and become more and more like a member of the family.

In addition to this choice, Joe is grappling with another. Several days before the heinous murder of Diana, Joe and Diana amicably broke off their engagement. (When Diana was murdered, she was sitting in a diner, waiting for Ben so she could break the news. Ben never found out what Diana was meaning to tell him, and has been pining over it endlessly since Diana’s death.) Joe must decided whether he should tell Ben and JoJo about the broken engagement and shatter their “relationship” with him, or keep everyone happy, like he has been doing, and continue to live a life not made for him.

Desperate to bring back their daughter, Ben and JoJo are hanging on to Joe, to keep the memory of Diana alive. In addition to clinging urgently to Joe, Ben, who had a difficult relationship with Diana, is hanging onto his real estate practice, which holds the best memories of Diana. Assisting in this need to hang on to Diana is the impending trial of the man who murdered Diana.

Moonlight Mile is, and should be, centered around these characters and their grief. However, the way that the film portrays this grief is hilariously flawed. To my recollection, not once do any of the characters shed a tear at the funeral, or at the luncheon. Only when faced with the possible lose of Joe from their lives to they cry. You would think that these characters would be devastated by the lose of their only child, instead they are all devastated by the imposing changes in their own lives that will ensue.

Mr. Silberling deserves accolades for attempting to not fall into the “sobbing hysterically” cliche, unfortunately, he goes a bit too far in making this character realistic, that he misses the mark, and makes them unrealistic.

While the grieving processes of Moonlight Mile are not viable, the individual characters are anything but. Joe Nast is NOT a strong protagonist. Which makes him all the more interesting. He is eager to please everyone else that he forgets his own needs. Ben was similar in his selfless attitude. He always picks up the phone as soon as it rings, and he always answers the door. But even the solid Ben, who tries to be pleasant and courteous through all of this, breaks down. He wanders through the restaurant which Diana was murdered, and completely melts down when he sobs for them to get the window fixed. (The bullet shattered it). JoJo is perhaps the most outwardly quirky. While Joe and Ben are willing to do anything for anyone, JoJo is sarcastic, and openly angered. To top things off, she appear to have a watch fetish. (She wears several watches at all times).

During the trailer for Moonlight Mile, they clearly point out the appearance of “Academy Award Winner” Holly Hunter. She does appear in the film, in only 2 scenes, as the D.A. trying the case of the murderer of Diana. There is a chance he might be a death penalty case, thus, it is important that Joe, JoJo, and Ben all be in attendance, at every session. This factor in the plot is entirely unnecessary, and I wouldn’t hessitate to guess that this aspect of the plot was simply written in the accommodate Holly Hunter and to get another “Academy Award Winner” on the play-bill.

These two courtroom scenes are topped off by the biggest mistake of the film. Yes, bigger than the inadequate showing of grief, and bigger than the addition of these scenes in general. The movie losses its basic realism when on the witness stand, Joe melts down and “confesses” the engagement to Diana was called off.

In addition to the plot problems, Moonlight holds several technical flaws. The first of which is the setting. For some unknown reason, they choose to set Moonlight Mile in the 70’s. Who knows why? It plays no factor on the plot, and the film would have been more deep had it been set it present time. Also, the film is shot very conservatively. There are no creative camera angles, and the films 111 minute running length seems a lot longer because of it.

With four Academy Award winners, and no doubt at least another nominee by April (Jake Gyllenhaal has turned in several fantastic performances this year, and it would be a crime if he is not nominated for one of them), Moonlight Mile’s acting is outstanding. The notable stand out is Dustin Hoffman, who is outwardly chipper, however, we can detect a hint of rage pent up inside. Susan Sarandon is great, as is Jake Gyllenhaal. Interestingly enough, I would say that the second best performance belongs to Ellen Pompeo, who takes on the role of Bertie.

Moonlight Mile is not the success it could have been. However, with fine acting, a good base plot, and thoroughly intriguing characters, Moonlight Mile has been able to achieve a positive recommendation from me.

[Sigh]...If only the grief been better portrayed, and a courtroom scene left on the editing room floor....think of the Oscars!

© 2002 Jake Sproul