What I’ve Been Watching: Moonlight Mile (2002).
Who’s Responsible: Brad Silberling (writer-director), Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Susan Sarandon (stars).
Why I Watched It: Cast & premise.
Seen It Before? No.
Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 7.
Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 4.
Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 8.
And? The first thing that surprised me about this film, which concerns the relationship between Gyllenhaal and the parents of his slain fiancée, Hoffman and Sarandon, was its initially serio-comic tone. Make no mistake, it is ultimately a drama, not a comedy, and an affecting one at that, but given the set-up, I was expecting more of an angst-fest. Very little in Silberling’s list of credits would have made me watch this if I had known he was behind it; he mostly directed (but, perhaps significantly, did not write) episodes of series I never saw, although his features include City of Angels, which—despite starring Nicolas Cage and being a remake of a movie by Wim Wenders, whom I greatly admire—I liked.
It is 1973 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where Joe Nast (Gyllenhaal) had moved in with Ben (Hoffman) and Jojo Floss (Sarandon), and planned to go into commercial realty with Ben once he married their daughter, Diana. Tragedy intervened when Diana was killed in a diner by a gunman whose target was his estranged wife, now comatose with two bullets in her head and expected by attorney Mona Camp (Holly Hunter) to testify against him if and when she recovers. As they await the trial, Ben proposes that they go ahead with the original plans as best they can, making Joe his partner in a development deal with Mike Mulcahey (Dabney Coleman) that requires the purchase of a whole block on Main Street.
While intercepting the wedding invitations before they are mailed, Joe meets Bertie Knox (Ellen Pompeo), who runs the town post office and also works at a local bar, Cal’s. Joe is already concealing one burdensome secret, i.e., that he and Diana had just called off their engagement, while still remaining friends, and that she was waiting at the diner to reveal this to Ben (whose office is across the street) when she was killed. Now, Joe’s growing attraction to Bertie gives him another secret to be kept from Ben and Jojo, and he is also reluctant to tell Bertie, who had a relationship with Cal—long MIA in Vietnam—that the sale of the bar is the linchpin of the development deal Ben hopes to seal with Mulcahey.
A longtime BOF favorite, Sarandon ably portrays the difficulty with which Jojo, a former alcoholic, deals with her grief and pursuant writer’s block, often lashing out at Ben, who tries desperately to channel his energies into their deal. Without another reliable witness, the case against the shooter is further jeopardized when his wife recovers and announces that she will testify on his behalf, stating that he had stopped taking his medications. By the time Mona puts Joe up on the witness stand in an effort to get Diana “into the room,” things seem so messed up for him that it appears they will never be put right; in real life, they often are not, but in a well-constructed screenplay like this one, they sometimes are.
There are so many different kinds of films, and by that I don’t mean simply the different genres; some are meant merely to entertain, others to enlighten, still others to make you feel something, and this one created in me a rich emotional stew. I couldn’t even put my finger on exactly why, but by the end I was crying and crying with tears that were neither happy nor sad, but both and neither, glad to be alive, glad to be in love. Silberling based the movie (dedicated to “all our loves…departed, or yet to be alive…”) partly on his own experiences after his actress girlfriend, Rebecca Schaeffer, was killed by an obsessed fan, and the deep reality of his feelings surely infused this with a special kind of effectiveness.