Saturday, December 5, 2009

Movie with Abe: Serious Moonlight

Serious Moonlight
Directed by Cheryl Hines
Released December 4, 2009

Meg Ryan usually plays the good girl that the guy ends up with in the end. She’s a romantic comedy star whose endearing performances in films like “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail” bring to mind a certain image of America’s sweetheart. She hasn’t made great films in the past few years, like “In the Land of Women,” and even that movie put her in a somewhat similar role to the one in which she most often finds herself. Her latest part is something new that still works with Ryan’s star image.

Ryan’s characters typically search for true happiness with a man. In this case, Louise (Ryan) has already found it, having been married to Ian (Timothy Hutton) for a number of years. Her decision to go up to their vacation home a day early results in the unfortunate discovery that Ian is leaving her for another woman. Unwilling to let him walk out on their marriage, she duct-tapes him to a toilet and refuses to let him leave until they can reconcile. It’s the ultimate romantic comedy gone wrong, where Louise might as well have watched Meg Ryan movies growing up and have convinced herself that the happy ending lasts longer than just when the credits roll after the fated lovers finally kiss.

Ryan is a stellar choice for the role of Louise because, in her quest to convince her husband to fall back in love with her, she exhibits all of the qualities moviegoers have come to adore about her. What’s particularly interesting about her performance is that she’s so fully in character, determined to make her fairy tale love continue as planned. The possibility that Ian might, deep down, actually want to leave her doesn’t even cross her mind for a second. She isn’t prepared to surrender at any cost, and seeing such a strong-willed, romance-driven protagonist with such a severe way of standing her ground is truly intriguing.

Ryan isn’t alone in her efforts to recuperate her marriage, though the other two people are actively working against her. Timothy Hutton, who broke through back in 1980 with an Oscar win for his supporting role in “Ordinary People” and hasn’t done much noteworthy work since, is terrific as her flummoxed and persistent husband, and his responses to Louise’s antics are priceless. The lovely Kristen Bell (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Heroes”) delivers an equally commendable performance as Ian’s clueless mistress, who doesn’t exhibit a shred of wit but still holds her own against the unstable Louise and the condescending Ian. The three of them make the film wonderfully entertaining, and it’s for their performances that it’s worth seeing. It’s also a fine tribute to the legacy of the late actress Adrienne Shelly (“Waitress”), who wrote the film. It’s definitely not your average romantic comedy, and director Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) is actually more comfortable calling it an “unromantic dark comedy.” There certainly aren’t many films with that label out there, so consider this one an intriguing alternative to the romantic comedy.


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