Ian (Timothy Hutton) has grown tired of his wife, Louise (Meg Ryan). Instead of going to Chicago like he said he would, he has headed out to the couple’s country house, where he said he’s meet his wife the next day. He plans to leave a letter for her, telling her that he’s run off to Paris with another woman, Sara (Kristen Bell), and that their marriage is over.
Unfortunately for him, Louise decides to head to the country house one day early, and after discovering the rose petals lying everywhere — which were meant for Sara, not her — thinks that her husband had planned a romantic day for her. He tells her that it’s over, she throws a flowerpot at him, and when he comes to, he’s taped to a chair and she’s sitting on the bed, holding a glass of water. It’s offered to him, but he doesn’t want it. After all, he’s more concerned with getting out of this predicament at the moment to care about quelling his thirst.
Ian is informed that he’s going to be held captive until the time when he falls back in love with his wife. This happens despite his plans to head out to Paris first thing in the morning. Louise doesn’t treat him poorly while he’s duct taped to this chair, but she’s not letting him go until he can tell her that he loves her — and mean it. She can tell if he’s lying, as he’s not very good at it even though he managed to keep his affair with Sara secret for a year (which the film initially treats as a gigantic revelation, but then nothing comes of it).
So, most of what we get involves having Ian taped to a chair, and Louise attempting to fix their marriage. She shows him pictures taken over a decade ago, bakes him cookies, puts on a dress, and so on, all the while Ian attempts to convince her that the spark is gone and that she could hold him there forever and it’s not going to change his mind. There’s a lot of repetition in Serious Moonlight, and this makes the film’s 80 minute running time feel a lot longer than it actually is. For the most part, all we see are these two actors talking with one another.
The third act is more promising, as something actually happens. A burglar (Justin Long) comes into the house, tapes up Louise, throws her in the bathroom with Ian, and then throws a party downstairs. This excitement helped to re-engage me with the film. We now have more than one thing to do, meaning instead of focusing on the relationship that may or may not ever be reconciled, we can try to figure out how the characters can escape from their possibly life-threatening situation.
I have the feeling that Serious Moonlight would have worked better as a play, and it’s possible that the late Adrienne Shelly’s script was originally planned for the stage. It takes place in a single location, features a limited number of actors, and seems like it would easily work as a play. Without cinematic tools to distract us, we might feel an intimacy with these characters and it’s possible that their marriage might actually mean something to us.
As it is, I had a really hard time caring. We never find out why they got married in the first place, nor how they managed 13 years. They never seemed to have a spark after the initial honeymooning period, and because of this, it’s hard to hope that they get back together. Ian seems like he’d be better with Sara, and Louise has shown to us that she needs to be locked away. Imagine if this same plot happened, except all of the genders were switched. Would a male holding his wife hostage win an audience’s endearment? Somehow I doubt it. It’s creepy enough in the way that it’s presented here.
A balance between drama and black comedy is attempted here, but the balance is skewed in the former which doesn’t work for reasons I’ve already explained. We don’t care about these people; it doesn’t matter to us if they get back together or not. The comedy that’s attempted occasionally works, but it’s too scattered to make much of an impact or entertain us. Some of the situations made me laugh, and the final scene, while predictable, gave me a laugh regardless, if only for the face given by one of the characters. The bathroom fight between Sara and Louise was also pretty funny, but looking at it in a different light makes it feel more embarrassing for both actors. You laugh, but you feel bad for the performers.
This attempted but failed balance also leads to some uneven and unsure performances. The actors aren’t bad, but they rarely seem like they know what they should be doing and how to play their part properly. It’s as if rookie director Cheryl Hines just let them do their thing, and the result are actors who haven’t been directed and don’t what would fit best. Perhaps Hines gave them too much credit, or perhaps she should stick to staying in front of the camera instead of behind it.
Serious Moonlight is an inconsistent film that probably should have been a play instead of a feature film. It gets repetitive in order to get its runtime above 80 minutes, the actors don’t seem to have a clue as to they should be doing, and we don’t care about these two leads despite spending almost every frame with both of them. It picks up near the end, and a few of the comedic touches help liven things up, but on the whole it’s not a movie that’s worth your time.