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Duct-Taping the Knot

MOVIE REVIEW
Serious Moonlight (2009)

SERIOUS_MOONLIGHT_STILL1
Will McGarry/Serious Moonlight, LLC

“Serious Moonlight” reaffirms what “Waitress” proved: The murder of Adrienne Shelly not only robbed the world of a mother, wife and talented actress, but an incredibly gifted and incisive filmmaking mind. Here Cheryl Hines directs one of Shelly’s unproduced screenplays, using the sort of elaborate battle-of-the-sexes setup intrinsic to the films of classic verbal stylists like Howard Hawks to arrive at some heartfelt human truths.

Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton star as married couple Louise and Ian. As the film opens, Louise arrives at their country house a day earlier than expected, where she finds Ian composing a letter explicating his wish for a divorce right before embarking on a sojourn to Paris with his girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell). Unwilling to so casually toss away years of marriage, Louise knocks him out with a flower pot and duct tapes him to a chair, thus commencing a truly unique marital therapy session.

Given its convoluted conceit, there is the persistent threat of the film descending into self-parody. Yet the movie resists it, instead consistently achieving a perceptive, insightful look into the complexities of modern marriage. Ms. Hines tempers the absurdist elements to the greatest possible extent, modulating the comic tone in favor of a more serious, introspective approach. That’s helped by the ways she and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber open up the constrained setting, which largely consists of a bedroom and a bathroom. They do so with some carefully calibrated blocking and by paying close attention to proper camera placement and angles to draw out the strong emotions at hand.

Shelly, with the eloquence of an artist gifted with an old soul, explores the joys and burdens of motherhood, the insidiousness of a relationship founded on miscommunication and the emotion invested in something as simple as a pastry item. There are pronounced overlaps with “Waitress,” but the darker, less whimsical tone lends “Serious Moonlight” levels of gravity appropriate for its depiction of a crumbling marriage.

The dialogue lays bare the deepest, most sublimated feelings tearing apart at the characters’ souls. Ian spends the majority of the picture suffering a succession of seemingly deserved humiliations, until a quiet monologue, beautifully delivered, shows us a man beaten down by a deep-rooted sense of inadequacy. Louise engages in vaguely sociopathic behavior, but her love for Ian shines through. In an age of steadily increasing divorce rates and quickly fissured marriages, one comes to admire her refusal to just let her husband go. As things grow ever more superficially surreal the poignant grounding provided by the director, the actors and the screenwriter gives the movie its potent heart.

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT

Opens on Dec. 4 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Cheryl Hines; written by Adrienne Shelly; director of photography, Nancy Schreiber; edited by Steven Rasch; music by Andrew Hollander; production designer, Cecil Gentry; produced by Andy Ostroy and Michael Roiff; released by Magnolia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Meg Ryan (Louise), Timothy Hutton (Ian), Kristen Bell (Sara), Justin Long (Todd), Andy Ostroy (Police Officer) and Nathan Dean (Detective).

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