“I’m not going to die. Nobody’s going to die.” These words, rather innocuous in themselves, take on a chilling effect in SERIOUS MOONLIGHT, as they were written by Adrienne Shelley, the actress who was murdered in 2006. The film is one hard-core chick flick, which had more than one guy – more used to stomaching the violence of, say, HOSTEL or SAW, than the investigation of a woman’s refusal to end a relationship -getting up and walking out of the press screening I attended.
Ian (Timothy Hutton) definitely wants out of his relationship with his high-powered, self-absorbed lawyer wife Louise (Meg Ryan) and, in a typical, cowardly fashion that may strike a chord with anyone who has ever been unceremoniously dumped by a man, he pens her a note which will be read by her only after he has split for Paris with his new girlfriend. At least that’s what he thinks, but Louise makes a surprise one-day early appearance at their country house where he has arranged a bon voyage romantic night with said new squeeze. Louise sees the rose petals scattered about which are not for her, reads the note and simply refuses to go quietly into that good night of resigned, deserted partners. She’s a screwball comic version of Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION but, instead of threatening, “I’m not going to be ignored,” she says, “I refuse to go to movies by myself, develop a chocolate addiction or deepen my friendships with women in similar situations!” before rendering Ian unconscious and binding him to a chair.
Completely under her control, Ian must submit to every guy’s nightmare: a total rehash of a dead relationship, as Louise drags out old reminscences and snapshots of their lives together, and bakes his erstwhile favorite chocolate chip cookies in a misguided effort to win him back. He seethes and oozes pure hatred for this corporate maenad, but I think some survivors of love’s warfare – especially women – will derive much guilty pleasure from this spectacle. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to just hang the fuck on to a special someone, even after they’ve somehow (and always unaccountably) lost interest? Remember Woody Allen’s famous mea culpa, “The heart wants what it wants?”
Meg Ryan has maybe the juiciest role of her career and she carnivorously sinks her teeth into it, nearly effacing all memory of the time when she rivalled Julia Roberts as “America’s Sweetheart.” Adriennle Shelley may no longer be of this earth, yet she is very much alive through the blistering, mordantly funny lines Ryan delivers with such spirit. Louise is, indeed, one pretty sick ticket, yet she evokes an undeniable empathy, even as nearly every man in the audience (if there will be any) recoils from her and hastily retreats. Yes, the actress’ face is somewhat surgically frozen, but this actually works for the part, especially when she is confronted by her romantic rival, Sara (Kristen Bell, tiny and amusingly staunch, and also refusing to take second place), who is, of course, a younger, fresher, sweeter version of herself.
Sara finds herself imprisoned in the same bathroom as Ian and Louise, thanks to Todd (Justin Long), a local thug who shows up to rob the house and makes fast work on them with the same duct tape Louise used on Ian. The room becomes every man’s idea of the ninth circle of hell as the ladies have at each other like rabid canines with Ian their very raggedy love object. It’s pure comedy of cruelty and, as scripted by Shelley and attentively directed for every comic possibility by Cheryl Hines, that rare example of the form which entertains and enlightens rather than benumbs and grows tiresome.
I just wish Hutton were stronger in his part. He shouts away and struggles manfully in his synthetic shackles, but the performance is one, monotonous note of anger without any illuminating colors. He’s weathered looking now and a long way from the cherubic, troubled lad he was in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, but his emotional range seems stunted. Long has a sexy slyness and convincingly scary streak of violence which adds necessary flavor and texture to this cinematic chamber piece. And Shelley, as if winking at us from beyond, adds one final scripted fillip which sends you out in a happily quizzical frame of mind.