It hurts when you lose someone you love. Whether they die or simply leave you for someone else, it leaves an empty place in your heart. You would do almost anything to bring them back. And some people fill that hole with drugs, alcohol, greasy food, meaningless sex with Lindsay Lohan, whatever. But what you shouldn’t do is make a terrible movie. I miss Adrienne Shelly as much as you do, but this isn’t going to bring her back or honor her memory. Serious Moonlight feels seriously unfinished. It’s an uneven and jagged screwball comedy that is fiercely piecemeal; cloying chunks of overwhelming melodrama stuck like trod-on gum to an unfunny romantic stock comedy. It may have succeeded as a stage play, but as a movie it simply feels sloppy, stumbling through the panes of completely different films before going headfirst into a brick wall ending. Adrienne Shelly showed so much promise with Waitress, and it’s truly depressing to realize that like so many other fine young actors and actresses, what will stand as her final testament is a shoddy shade of her true potential.
Louise (Meg Ryan), a successful high-powered lawyer, decides to surprise her advertising exec husband Ian (Timothy Hutton) a day early at their country house. Unfortunately, Ian was planning on leaving Lou via letter then head on a jet plane to gay Paree with his new young chickie Sara (Kristen Bell). Lou doesn’t take too kindly to being left, so she knocks Ian out with a flowerpot and duct tapes him to a chair, holding him hostage until he loves her again. Ian shouts and cajoles and berates Lou while she foolishly tries to beg and plead for him to remember their love. At one point, Sara comes around looking for Ian, and Lou tells her she can have Ian and that she understands, but she wants to have a last little talk with him. Lou realizes just how fucking stupid this whole situation is, and Ian obviously lies and tells her he loves her, and she lets him go. Ian shouts at her, flees the room. Lou knocks Ian out with a flowerpot. Again. Because apparently Wily E. Coyote bought ACME out of anvils. She then duct tapes him to a toilet, because toilet is a funny word. We know this, because for the remaining hour plus of the film, they will take every opportunity to say the word toilet.
Now, duct taped to a toilet, Ian is assuredly going to fall back in love with Lou, right? And since it worked so well the first time, Lou fires off every play in the ol’ get-em-back lady playbook. She bakes him cookies, shows him their wedding slides, plays him a song on a guitar, dresses all sexy, and also punts on fourth down. While Lou gets extolled for her supposed independence and incredibleness and intellect, she basically pulls off a retarded scheme that reeks so strongly of desperate middle-aged woman, there were actually small Oxygen Network programs trolling in her wake. What rational person honestly believes that by kidnapping someone and holding them hostage when they are due to be on an airplane to Paris the next day is going to truly work? And for that matter, who the hell keeps slides in chronological order of their love life in the Digital Age? But I guess Microsoft PowerPoint really doesn’t have a template for shitty romantic ploys.
Oh, but the film isn’t done delving into the dumbassery. Because you know what’s logically going to happen right? Lou leaves to go buy ingredients to cook Ian a romantic dinner and who should show up? Exactly. A guy pretending to be the guy who mows their lawn (Justin Long) breaks into their house and beats the shit out of Ian before robbing the place. When Lou comes home, he knocks her out, fondles her on the floor in front of Ian and then busts up the joint with his cronies. What the double-stuffed fuck? Not only does this make less sense than trying to kidnap your paramour to force them back into your life, but it sends the movie into really disturbing territory. Justin Long channels a creepy dirt bag version of Keanu Reeves, who philosophizes about the true meaning of love in between whomping the ever loving fuck out of Ian and molesting Lou. Even when, inevitably, Sara comes rolling on in to confront Ian for abandoning her at the airport, the lawnboy feels compelled to get freaky all up on Meg Ryan. She’ll buy a Mac already, for Christ’s sake.
The entire piece culminates in what more or less becomes a single or divorced middle-aged woman’s romantic fantasy. The ultimate finale is so painfully stupid and overwrought and devoid of thought, my only immediate thought was Adrienne Shelly had just dashed a place filler to get to later before her untimely homicide. You would have to be desperately and hopelessly romantic to see the finale as plausible, much less enjoyable. And when I say hopeless, I mean, your ovaries have desiccated and you’re through your second pint of ice cream thinking about getting a third cat while watching the fourth season of “Designing Women.” Perhaps strangest of all is that because of the unusual casting, the entire project feels like some sort of fan fic alternate telling of French Kiss. Instead of going to France to get back Timothy Hutton from his new love and falling for sleazy comedian Kevin Kline, Meg Ryan ties Timbo up before he can ever get on the plane, forces him to fall back in love with her by getting her ass knocked the fuck out by sleazy comedian Justin Long. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Merde.
The casting is unfortunate. Meg Ryan is too pretty to be that desperate. If it were Kirstie Alley or someone more meaty and able to go as crazy as necessary, it might have worked. Instead, Meg Ryan runs around emoting like someone was sitting on the remote that controlled her personality. Weirder still, she seems to be aping director Cheryl Hines’ performance on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Timothy Hutton reminds me of a suave Tim Robbins, and though he’s excellent in “Leverage,” he’s just all right here. Kristen Bell seems really, really intent on only playing painfully adorable bombshells who beg desperately to get with losery schlubs. Justin Long is horribly miscast. The dude has been steadily impressing me with his role choices lately — no matter how dreadful the movie, he manages to elevate beyond it. But here, man, he’s woefully wrong for the part. I couldn’t help but think: Oh! Here’s the movie Chris Evans meant to be in, not that godawful Tennessee Williams atrocity. Speak of speaking ill of the dead.
Serious Moonlight makes no sense as a movie. It really felt like attending a wake for someone who died too young. It made me feel terrible Adrienne Shelly isn’t going to be around to do anything better. Making the movie was something painful but cathartic everyone needed to get out of their system. They grieved, and now it’s best to just put it past us and move on with our lives and remember Adrienne for the good times. And forget about this tragedy as soon as we can.