By Don Simpson | November 16, 2009
Director: Cheryl Hines
Writer(s): Adrienne Shelly
Starring: Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristin Bell, Justin Long
Serious Moonlight begins with Ian (Timothy Hutton) as he travels to a quaint vacation home in the country. Where Ian is going, people leave items for sale alone by the side of the road with the unwavering trust that their customers will leave the proper cash on the table in exchange for the goods; and the inhabitants of the town leave their doors unlocked even when they are not home. (Other than in the movies, do places like this still exist?)
Ian purposefully arrives a day earlier than his wife, Louise (Meg Ryan), in order to rendezvous with his youthful mistress Sara (Kristen Bell) for a trip to Paris. Ian plans on being halfway to Paris before Louise arrives – he intends to leave a note behind for Louise to break off their marriage.
Unfortunately for Ian, his charade is thwarted by Louise who also arrives early. At first, Louise suspects that the rose-pedaled floor and candlelit ambience are just a hint at what’s in store for her – a sex-filled weekend getaway with her somewhat estranged husband. When Ian confesses his scheme to leave her, Louise opts to restrain Ian with duct tape in a last ditch attempt to convince him not to leave her. Unfortunately, the forced captivity only seems to be convincing Ian that his decision to leave Louise is duly warranted.
When Louise discerns that the duct tape plan just isn’t working out, she leaves the house for a brief errand…while she’s away, a violent robber (Justin Long) arrives. Ian is beaten into unconsciousness; next thing he knows Louise is duct-taped next to him (and she has apparently been knocked out by the robber as well). To add fuel to the emotional fire burning in this tightly-confined space, Sara arrives at the house only to be duct-taped and tossed into the bathroom with Ian and Louise – the three is definitely a crowd in this bathroom.
Throughout the film the audience is left uncertain of whom to be more sympathetic of: the insane wife or cheating husband (or mistress). Via the densely conceived dialogue, we learn exactly why these two characters of seemingly imperfect morals have made the poor decisions that have gotten to them to this point. Louise’s career leaves little time for Ian; between that and her psychotic personality Ian obviously needs to find a happier situation for himself. Louise obviously loves Ian (enough to duct tape him to a toilet), and she just wants a second chance to improve her relationship with Ian. Being that this seems to be the first time Ian has expressed his unhappiness with Louise, one can’t blame her for being a wee bit irrational.
Penned by the late Adrienne Shelley (who got her start on the silver screen acting in Hal Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, then went on to write and direct Sudden Manhattan, I’ll Take You There and Waitress), the script is chock-full of clever Hitchcockian twists along with a impeccably strong (and mysterious) conclusion. Serious Moonlight is very conservatively directed by first-timer Cheryl Hines (who acted in Waitress with Shelley). Hines does adequately represent the claustrophobic nature of the script, concentrating approximately 75% of the film in the bathroom (and how creative can one be with direction and camera placement on such a confined set); and the pacing and delivery of the dialogue is flawless (on many occasions, especially early on, Ryan appears to be channeling the spirit of Shelley).
This is indeed the actors’ film (primarily Hutton, who is at his pinnacle here), not the director’s. Nonetheless, coming off Shelley’s meticulous direction of Waitress, I would have loved to see how she would have casted and directed Serious Moonlight. Shelley would have made a pitch-perfect Louise, and though Hutton was brilliant casting opposite Ryan, I would have loved to see Nathan Fillion or Martin Donovan opposite Shelley.