Moonlight Mile (2002)Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and brief strong language.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Holly Hunter, Ellen Pompeo.
LVJeff's Rating: 6/10
Photo ©Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.
Familiar Coping Lesson
Moonlight Mile was begging for a stronger reaction from me. It had the right ingredients to attract me -- a story about human reactions to death, a talented cast, and a detectable passion for the material from those involved in its production. Yet, my response to the film is best described as lukewarm.
Maybe I found the proceedings a little bit too conventional. This is a story about coping with losses and it shows several people struggling to feel normal in the aftermath of a beloved one's death. Their various facades are natural and common -- Ben Floss (Dustin Hoffman), father of the deceased, tells himself to push forward and keep himself productive; his wife, Jojo (Susan Sarandon), defiantly objects to being pitied; and another character holds on to a physical manifestation of a loved one's memory, as if that would keep that person alive. All of them obviously have their emotions bottled up.
But when it's over, the lesson proves to be one that common sense has helped many to arrive at -- learn to let go. It's not a stunning revelation, but noticeably sincere, given that the movie's writer/director is Brad Silberling, who lost his girlfriend, actress Rebecca Schaeffer, to a crazed gunman over a decade ago. He obviously infused Moonlight Mile with a lot of his personal experience, and I suspect that each of the grieving characters in the movie embodies a different facet of his own reaction to personal tragedy.
However, we have little reason not to suspect that the movie recalls those "learning to cope" books Sarandon's character throws in to the fireplace early in the film. Tragedy is met with moments of humor and several attempts at reaching for a sign of life outside the mourners' bubble. And it doesn't take a battle-scarred movie vet to realize that we will arrive at the time-tested solution of, "we have to let go and move on -- she would have wanted it that way."
Thankfully, the best part of Moonlight Mile is the story of its main character, the murder victim's young fiancee, Joe Nast, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. His grief is two-fold and more than meets the eye. The way he handles his emotions throughout his particular dilemma, which involves being trapped under the roof of the Flosses, is intriguing, and Gyllenhall plays him so confidently -- he practically lights up uber-actors Hoffman and Sarandon -- that the audience easily identifies with him. Unfortunately, his crisis is solved in a spectacular fashion that could only happen in the movies -- it feels conjured, which is strange to say because somehow it also still feels heartfelt.
Set in the time of the Vietnam War, Moonlight Mile also employs its soundtrack as a coping mechanism, featuring thoughtful rock ballads Stillwater might've found themselves singing on the bus of their "Almost Famous" tour. Everything in the background focuses on the path to healing, which is what makes Joe's journey, in which he seems to dig himself deeper in to a hole, all the more fascinating to watch. I think, for the most part, the movie works -- that is, until we're told, "she would have wanted it that way."
©Jeffrey Chen, Sep. 24, 2002