Moonlight Mile

A Film Review By Michael Haley

Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, sexual innuendo and the usual, and some nasty manners.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhall, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Pompeo and Drexell’s Class’ very own Dabney Coleman
Directed By: Brad Silberling

Final Grade:

When I saw the trailer for Moonlight Mile awhile back, it left me in tears. Of course I had to quickly cover up and pretend to be macho or some other bull like that in front of my co-workers, but it brought back some very painful feelings from when one of my old friend/coworker’s was killed. I’m currently working on a script that tries to make sense of the feelings that came after her death, as well as pay tribute to her life. I later did research on the film and found out that director Brad Siberling was in a similar boat…in 1989 he was dating actress Rebecca Shaeffer, who was killed by an obsessed stalker. After ten years, he decided to use his experience as a starting point for his film. Well, I’ve finally seen it and after all is said and done, did it live up to my own hype? Or better yet, did it mirror my own feelings that while Silberling is not required to do, is a bias that exists nevertheless? The answer is yes in some really good ways, no in the important ways, and just enough overall.

The film opens with the funeral of Cheryl Floss, daughter of Ben and JoJo Floss (great names, huh?) She was killed while engaged to Joe, Jake Gyllenhall’s character, and after the funeral an attorney played by Holly Hunter wants to bring her killer to justice. Ben wants to start a commercial real estate business and more or less assumes Joe wants to too, and believes that maybe he can gain a son where he has lost a daughter. JoJo grieves in her own mournful, sarcastic way, shameful at everybody who even dares to express sympathy. However, Joe is slowly becoming attracted to a postal employee/barkeep Bertie Knox (I’m really starting to hate these names). He’s still staying with Cheryl’s family, and is trying to find a new direction for his life to head while allowing her family’s to go on as painlessly as possible.

This film sounds like a downer, although it really isn’t…there’s quite a bit of dry, sarcastic humor to be found. Ironically enough, the film feels at it’s most genuine when we explore these moments, such as when JoJo says, “I get pissed off when they talk about her and I get pissed off when they don’t, and that’s just the way it is!” There’s a wonderful scene early on when her parents know that they have to get rid of her possessions, yet JoJo is still seething upon watching her friends not only play grab ass with her possessions, but also pick and choose which possessions they felt really mattered to her. These characters, in these scenes at least, emerge as flesh and blood people, free to exhibit feelings that contradict their natures that help the viewer to connect with these people. There is one impeccably timed and executed scene, where Bertie takes Joe unexpectedly in the bar and dances when the song “Moonlight Mile” comes on the jukebox.

Despite these wonderful moments, all is not right with the film, and it’s unfortunate because this film had the potential to be a masterpiece. Around the point where Joe starts to fall in love with Bertie marks the film’s departure from depicting real emotions and instead settles into a rhythm that makes it feel like every other love story out there right now. The subplot proceeds more or less in typical Hollywood fashion with a ludicrous ending, and doesn’t really engage us in the turmoil of Joe, who must fight between his dead fiancée who he feels he has to honor and the possibilities of a new beginning. Interesting stuff, poorly handled. Also, am I the only one who’s getting tired of one of the characters exclaiming to the other in any given movie (including this one) “What are you running away from? Why are you so scared?” Silberling has already showed that he can produce lines of dialogue that sound as if they came from a real person instead of a screenwriter, so why throw that one (as well as others) in the mix as well? When the film takes the time to observe Joe by himself, we feel as if he really has suffered a great loss…yet unfortunately, it doesn’t really come through in his character beyond these points. Dustin Hoffman is good as always, but it’s amazing how little he’s really there despite the fact that he gets a large chunk of screen time.

However, Silberling’s biggest mistake was not allowing us to know Cheryl while she was alive. The movie begins after she’s already dead, so even if you have lost a loved one in real life, it’s still hard to empathize with these characters because we haven’t lost anyone (for the film’s sake) that we can invest ourselves in. We only see her once or twice in dreams and a few snapshots here and there, but for someone who serves as such a major catalyst to these characters’ lives to be absent is a big miscalculation. In a sense, the audience becomes the people that JoJo so despises (phony displays of sympathy when they could care less about her during her life).

Moonlight Mile had the potential to be a truly extraordinary film, as we see in the trailer for the film. However, the romantic subplot exchanges real emotions for easy, typical film romance, and as a result, the audience is shortchanged. There are many fine moments that add up to a positive sum, and although I’m giving it an above average grade, I still feel reluctant about it. It’s as if we shown the concluding act of Romeo and Juliet, but without getting to know either of the star performers.

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