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Overall Rating

Awesome: 30.23%
Worth A Look58.14%
Average: 2.33%
Pretty Bad: 4.65%
Total Crap: 4.65%

4 reviews, 19 user ratings

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Moonlight Mile
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by Collin Souter

"Home is where the heart is"
4 stars

The process of grief has always been a strange one. There exist no common symptoms other than crying. There doesn’t seem to be any gradual procedure to get from one stage of remorse to another. There have been way too many books written on the subject. Grief may well be the most personal process in the world. “Moonlight Mile” focuses on four individuals and their despair upon losing a loved one. They each have their quirks, which lead each of them to go about the grieving process in their own individual way. Somehow, these four people find a harmonious way of integrating their grief so that nobody feels truly alone. One truth hovers over this universal human ordeal: Misery loves company.

“Moonlight Mile,” from its first sequence onward has the feeing of being a very personal film. Brad Silberling, who wrote and directed the movie, in many ways, lived this story. He had been going out with Rebecca Shaeffer, star of TV’s “My Sister Sam.” One night, a fan of Shaeffer’s, a stalker, shot and killed her (This man blamed his actions on the U2 song “Exit.”). As a result, Silberling ended up forming a strong bond with Rebecca’s parents. “Moonlight Mile” follows this story, but with a few changes. Here, the victim is not a TV star, but a regular person with problems, just like you and me. Also, “Moonlight Mile” seems to take place in 1973. I say ‘seems’ because the movie doesn’t call attention to its time period the way other period pieces do. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for this change, but then again it’s Silberling’s catharsis and not ours.

We see most of the movie through the eyes of Joe Nast, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (of “Donnie Darko” and “The Good Girl”). The opening shot in the film has nothing but a sunny sky and a body of water. Joe walks into frame on the water as a person swims behind him. With his head in the clouds and his feet walking over fragile waters, this opener speaks volumes about Joe and his dilemma in life. He doesn’t have a plan to live for and the death of his fiancée has only adds to the emptiness. For Joe, it’s sink-or-swim time.

Joe had been engaged to Diana Floss before her death. The movie starts out on the morning of her funeral. Joe has been staying with Diana’s parents, JoJo (Susan Sarandon) and Ben (Dustin Hoffman) Floss. After everyone leaves the reception, rather than crying and staring blankly into space, JoJo instead picks apart the behavior of everyone who gave their sympathies. She burns every copy of every self-help book given to her. Her daughter’s death has been going through a series of clichés, a symptom that doesn’t sit will with JoJo. This was her daughter. She deserved better than that. Joe has very little to say on the subject.

Then there’s Ben, who has a real estate business. Prior to the tragedy, Joe had plans to go into business with Ben, a decision Joe made because he didn’t know what else to do with his life. After the funeral, Ben wants to get back to work right away and he wants to take Joe with him. They look at property, smoke cigars and talk about the future. Actually, Ben does most of the talking. Joe has very little to say on the subject.

One night, Diana’s friends come over to the Floss house to go through Diana’s closets and pick out the clothes they’d like to take. They decide to get Joe out of this somber house and into a social setting. They take him to a local bar. Joe, in a moment of desperation and unable to function with or relate to normal people, heads to the jukebox for some solace. He picks a certain Rolling Stones song and finds that it has meaning to one of the employees in the bar, a bright and funny girl he met earlier in the town post office named Bertie Knox (Ellen Pompeo). The song brings out the lost soul in her and Joe picks up on it. They dance together slowly. Finally, he has found someone with whom he can speak and to whom he can relate.

Naturally, the Floss family has a lawyer (Holly Hunter) working on the case against their daughter’s murderer. I dreaded that the movie’s last act would be solely devoted to whether or not the murderer would be found guilty, and “Moonlight Mile” does set itself up for such an occurrence. However, the final courtroom scene plays an important part in the grand scheme of things. For Joe to be acting on neutral throughout most of the movie and probably most of his life, it takes a certain line of questioning to get him to realize the depth of his situation and come to terms with it. This scene does not exist for the sake of being maudlin, emotional or preachy. The movie has been leading up to this scene all along. It’s what the film is about. We don’t really care about what will happen to the killer anyway and Silberling, to his credit, knows this.

Refreshingly, “Moonlight Mile” does not have a somber tone running through all of it. This movie will actually make you laugh. The character of Bertie has plenty of charm and gives the movie a much-needed dose of humor. With every sly comeback, Ellen Pompeo puts up another layer of skin to mask Bertie’s ache. She gives a winning performance. Sarandon’s character, likewise, has just the right amount of wits to keep us from bawling our eyes out half the time. Her character doesn’t enjoy this process any more than we do. Her ability to dismiss any sort of Hallmark card-like display of sympathy from her friends as a mountain of clichés is her defense mechanism against her true sadness. In “Moonlight Mile,” Sarandon gives her best performance since “Dead Man Walking.”

Gyllenhaal, again, gives a pitch-perfect performance. Ironically, his demeanor throughout most of “Moonlight Mile” resembles Benjamin Braddock, the protagonist of “The Graduate.” Most of Gyllenhaal’s scenes have that awkwardness felt in that moment from “The Graduate” where one of the dad’s friends asks Benjamin to consider a career in “plastics.” Hoffman seems to be playing the other part in this film. His character doesn’t seem to realize that Joe has been playing a part for him and going through a string of uncomfortable motions with him all along. These two characters need each other to get through this time in their lives, but neither one of them will admit to their desperation. In the scenes involving the diner where his daughter had been killed, Hoffman reminds us why he has always been one of our greatest actors.

“Moonlight Mile” is the kind of movie a director wants to make after directing a couple box office hits for a studio’s bottom line (Silberling also directed “Casper” and “City of Angels”). This will probably be his “Almost Famous,” a movie about a monumental time in a filmmaker’s life, a story he/she feels must be told, if only to clean out a closet or two. Silberling puts these memories on display with subtle details, such as in the movie’s opening drive to the funeral. He laces his soundtrack with obscure pop music choices (not the usual Bob Dylan, Van Morrison or Rolling Stones songs you’re used to hearing) and a nice, restrained score by Mark Isham. One never gets the feeling that Silberling altered or short-changed the real-life experiences when he wrote his script. It feels fresh, vital and, most importantly, real.

Many have been comparing “Moonlight Mile” to last year’s “In The Bedroom,” but I think of them as opposites. “In The Bedroom” has something completely different to say about grief once the movie takes that turn in its third act. “In The Bedroom” is more of a dissection of vigilantism. “Moonlight Mile” reminded me more of Keith Gordon’s woefully underrated “Waking The Dead,” a movie about the pains of moving on from tragedy while being haunted by ghosts. Clearly the most sentimental of the three, “Moonlight Mile” gives its characters a future worth striving for and a sky-high feeling of clarity and closure. It's home. Some may find this movie overly sentimental, but I fell for it hook, line and sinker. A sweet thing, indeed.

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originally posted: 10/01/02 22:16:46
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User Comments

12/07/06 Larissa Awesome movie and the soundtrack is even better. 5 stars
4/25/06 Carol Baker This movie was in between Average and Worth a look. Dustin Hoffman has been in better pict 4 stars
9/27/03 Chlo (Mrs. Jake Gyllenhaal) Hmm, pretty good, but if you want to see a really good Jake movie - see Donnie Darko!!! 4 stars
9/16/03 Ingo A bit too cheesy, but fortunately very funny, too. 4 stars
9/13/03 Neil I was drawn in after awhile and, like Collin, fell hook, line & sinker. Awesome soundtrack! 4 stars
4/07/03 Lori Boring, irritating, and shamelessly derivative 1 stars
3/12/03 fleaj characters kept me involved 4 stars
3/05/03 thejames great movie in every way shape and form. 5 stars
3/02/03 Brian Bastedo I loved it;great soundtrack too 4 stars
12/07/02 ownerofdajoint welltoldtragedyabouttheruthlessnessoflivingandourultimatehelplessnesstoit......... 5 stars
11/17/02 pixie this movie was unbelievable, so real, all you can do is sit back and absorb. so good. 5 stars
11/09/02 spaceworm Haven't been here in awhile, but I just saw this movie... 5 stars
10/18/02 Suzz slow, boring, uninvolving, awful screenplay and worse soundtrack 2 stars
10/15/02 LessThanColleen Really great, very emotion with some humor. Jake Gyllenhaal's a better actor then most! 5 stars
10/13/02 sunlight kilometer Actors chew scenery, movie takes too long and says nothing. Overpretentious. 1 stars
10/09/02 Heather Pretty good movie, reminded me of Wonder Boys for some reason .... 4 stars
10/07/02 marco guerra It wasn't about grief, the actors did a lousy job but the worst was Silberling . 3 stars
10/03/02 Me Not U Best film of 2002 despite gooey melodrama. The most real film of 2002 for sure 5 stars
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  27-Sep-2002 (PG-13)



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