Moonlight mile (Baby's in black; Goodbye hello) - Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Brad Silberling
Threat advisory: Guarded - General risk of entertaining activities
When Joe Nast's (Jake Gyllenhaal) plans for marriage change due to an unexpected loss, he wants to be the man he believes everyone wants him to be - dutifully bereaved husband-to-be and perfect would-be son-in-law to Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and JoJo (Susan Sarandon). But when another woman unexpectedly enters his life, he's quickly torn between fulfilling his new role and following his heart.
From Brad Silberling, comes an emotional tale of disarming honesty and unexpected humour... a story about waking up to life, letting go, and discovering that love comes in the most unexpected circumstances.
Loosely inspired by the true story of the 1989 murder of actress (and TV star) Rebecca Schaeffer to whom Brad Silberling was engaged at the time.
Theatrical propaganda posters
Target demographic movie keyword propaganda
- Film drama biography son-in-law family death
Persons of interest
- Jake Gyllenhaal .... Joe Nast
- Dustin Hoffman .... Ben
- Susan Sarandon .... JoJo
- Aleksia Landeau .... Cheryl
- Holly Hunter .... Mona Camp
- Ellen Pompeo .... Bertie Knox
- John Balma .... Walter Ketch
- Rachel Singer .... Rhonda Ketch
- Dabney Coleman
- Allan Cordunor
- Richard T Jones
- Brad Silberling .... Screenwriter
- Brad Silberling .... Director
Cinematic intelligence sources
- Awards and film festivals:
- Toronto International Film Festival 2002: Viacom Gala
- Moonlight mile QuickTime movie trailers
- Studios and distributors:
Agent Provocateur Alexander Feld
Brad Silberling's Moonlight mile is an intensely personal film. When one becomes aware of its genesis, it becomes all the harder to contextualise.
In 1989, up and coming starlet Rebecca Schaeffer was blown away by an obsessed autograph hunter/stalker that she pissed off. Murdered at 22, Schaeffer didn't accomplish terribly much; her claim to fame is the watchable late-80s sitcom My sister Sam. She would score immortality, however posthumously, because she was engaged to hot young TV director Brad Silberling, just about to hit the big screen.
His first feature was the charming, black-around-the-edges Casper: A spirited beginning, far better than the banal cartoon of the 50s. Silberling followed Casper with the appalling schmaltz-fest City of angels, an adaptation of Wim Wenders' magical Wings of desire closer to abortion than to remake. Now a name and a box office draw, he was primed to make his autobiographical elegy.
Roman Polanski exorcised the murdered Sharon Tate with his magnificent bloodbath Macbeth; unfortunately we are operating on different aspirations here. On a grey morning in a grey Massachusetts town, a sombre young man, uncomfortable in a suit and tight new shoes, prepares the family pet his breakfast, dog food heaped with Pepto-Bismol. The dyspeptic golden retriever, suggestively named Nixon, belongs to Ben and JoJo Floss (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon), and their household is preparing for the funeral of their daughter Diana. The young man was her fiancé Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal); he is now being quasi-adopted as Ben's new business partner and the son the Flosses never had.
Messages are pushed from the onset; Ben instructs the Rabbi not to mention God in the upcoming service. On the unpleasant limousine ride to the cemetery, kids play baseball and ride bikes, people wash their cars, teenagers pash, a bride and groom leave a church. The waiters at the reception gossip while the dog vomits, JoJo grieves and Joe hyperventilates. God is absent, Life goes on, get it?
A few days prior, Diana was waiting for her father in a luncheonette across the street from his offices, newly re-signed "Floss and Son". The pink wedding invitations are in the post, something important is in the air, and Ben is late. Diana is caught in the crossfire between a waitress and her deranged boyfriend: the waitress takes two bullets to the head and lives. Diana does not.
She is to be avenged by crusading DA Mona Camp (just ignore that one) well played by an under-used Holly Hunt. The upcoming trial will be agonising; Joe will stay in town. (In reality, the DA on the Schaeffer trial was Marcia Clark, who later went to fame for not convicting OJ Simpson. With this in mind, Hunt makes all the more interesting casting choice.)
Joe soon, inevitably, finds another girl, in this case a caring, blond postal worker named Bertie (Ellen Pompeo). Her saloon-keeper boyfriend Cal is MIA three years in Vietnam, and she moonlights in the bar that is, ostensibly, hers. She holds on to Cal's memory in denial, refusing to move on, and the parallel between her condition and Joe's is gratingly ideal, if not blatantly obvious.
Ms Pompeo, in her début feature, has the charm and talent to just about triumph over the restrictions of her limited character and her underwritten material. There is more than a hint of the poetic vulnerability of Michelle Pfeiffer; Pompeo's welcoming eyes, warm smile, mousy voice, stringy blonde hair and pale, freckled skin seem perfect for her characterisation. Even when tested with bad dialogue, saccharine scenes or contrivances, her work is honest and free of mannerism. This is an auspicious début of a talented actress; here's hoping she is not typecast as a working-class dish-pan blonde.
Somewhere between the first ten minutes and Bertie's entrance, on cue to the title song, we realise this is a period flick - to be imprecise, sometime in the early 70s. (For those of you who didn't live through that wonderful era, Moonlight mile was the last ballad on side B of the Stones' Sticky fingers album and, yes, it's gorgeous.) The production design has no grasp on the audience, and this era should be just a little more obvious. Although the emphasis is clearly on browns, greys and wintry drear, the flat costumes and dull sets grate quickly.
Jake Gyllenhaal (no, he and Tobey McGuire are not the same person) plays his role with a dreamy-eyed, muddled boyishness that seems closer to late puberty than adulthood. This is not entirely the actor's fault, the character, considering his importance to the structure of the film, is nearly embryonic.
There is also a chemical and stylistic imbalance with Hoffman and the other seasoned artists. One of the film's high points, a meeting with Joe, Ben and a blustering big dealer (played delightful tongue-in-cheek by Dabney Coleman) touches on a Coen Brothers note that is, unfortunately, not sustained. Remember that Mr Hoffman went to stardom in The graduate, playing a very different Ben, a young man in a not-so-distant era lost in a sea of his elders. Now listen to "Commercial Real Estate!" in Mr Coleman's sepulchral moo, ringing a reverential bow to "Plastics!" in the older film. It's a wonderful touch, but the energy does not transcend. Coleman and Hoffman's characters have blood in their veins, Gyllenhaal tepid tap water.
Hoffman's work is, of course, first class. No actor of his generation (save Al Pacino) plays a common man better. And Ben Floss is your classic, simple small town man, in a relationship of convenience, at odds with his daughter, emotionally crippled. This is just the sort of bloke who collapses hardest when an event like a child's death strikes; Ben still manages to go to work, answer all ringing telephones, pat mates on the back, and slowly disintegrate.
Sarandon, ever the pro, gives JoJo her all. She is the sarcastic, groovy writer to Hoffman's late middle-aged fart, sneaking cigarettes and Scotch, mocking the ghastly neighbours. Her presence is the films greatest strength and weakness - Sarandon has played these roles many times before and, frankly, she is simply too large for them now. Her presence and power are so great you cannot keep your eyes off of her. It seems bizarre indeed that this urbane gal is married to a real estate agent in a two-bit town; JoJo's explanation of why to Joe is the film's best (and best written) moment. Great opportunities are lost; a further scene with Mr Gyllenhaal has a tempting subtext of sublimated desire, it leads to nowhere. The grief stricken JoJo gets herself soused and hungover; the ensuing battle with Ben is the only time the film catches fire.
There are inconsistencies in the filmmaking that stem past continuity fubars or a script that needed at least ten more rewrites. Mundane scenes come and go. Potentially interesting sub-plots are left dangling; there are enough lost opportunities for five features. No attempt is made for local colour, and a New England coastal town would have one colourful vernacular. The Flosses are secular Jews ("Floss" means "raft" or "to flow" in German and Yiddish... go figure) for no other apparent reason than the subject was; the only detectable Jewish moment seems to be in their love of take-away Chinese. The cinematography is a big worry - although some fine panning shots of the downhearted town evoke Edward Hopper, lighting, shadow and overall colour have a quality that emphasises the obvious. However, regarding the music, Silberling fills the film with some great B-side period music, uses nostalgia in the right doses, and avoids cheap rock/cinema clichés. His musical mission, which succeeds, seems to be in portraying how common people use popular music as a spiritual language, to express amorphous emotions they can't articulate. (OK, it's obvious and it's certainly not classy, but what do you expect in a sleazy bar in a working class town in the early 70s? Ella sings Cole Porter?)
Much of this mess can be excused because it is Silberling's third feature. To criticise his closing stance on crime, grief and forgiveness is dangerous inasmuch as it is near autobiography; some ethical posing, however, is altogether reprehensible. The moral ruminations of the death penalty are hinted at, there is a drama-less courtroom scene, the woeful accused appears, and the woman he was attempting to kill. Detail will give away the conclusion, but the moral denouement is that Diana had her brains blown out, and that's ok. Love, live, forgive... life goes on. The ensuing, pseudo-redemptive, music-drenched ending will have many reaching for their Kleenexes; a barf bag is suggested. The dog had the right idea all along.
Personal, carefully made in places and featuring some fine performances, Moonlight mile seems like a period mishmash of Ordinary people and In the bedroom, regurgitated by the Coen Brothers, with an extra helping of B-grade schmaltz for good measure. Rebecca, rest in peace.
Media intelligence (DVD)
- Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound
- Disc: Single side, dual layer
- Languages: English
- Picture: Widescreen (2.35:1)
- Special features:
- Brad Silberling
- Brad Silberling and cast
- Deleted scenes: Introductions by Brad Silberling
- Featurettes: Moonlight mile: a journey to screen
- Subtitles: English, English captions, English closed captions
Security censorship classification
M (Low level coarse language)
112 minutes (1:52 hours)