A review of “Moonlight Mile” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

 

 

“Moonlight Mile” is a casting director’s dream.  Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Holly Hunter, and hotter-than-hot Jake Gyllenhaal (“The Good Girl”) working it together in a 1970s-era drama about loving, loss, and the dark recesses of grief.

The performances are remarkable, but the story is their polar opposite – a simple tale of healing and truth that emphasizes the everyday-ness of living.  Joe Nast (Gyllenhaal) is shacking up at his future in-law’s home, prepping for his wedding to their daughter Diana, and a dream honeymoon trip to Rome.  When Diana is murdered, Joe is forced to go through the motions of death, while re-examining his tenuous relationship with Diana’s parents (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon as Ben and Jo-Jo Floss).

With a fierce desire-to-please underlying every breath, Joe struggles to be everything to everybody.  The bereaved almost-husband to Diana.  A commercial real-estate partner to Ben (under the stifling moniker Floss & Son).  Emotional puppet of the District Attorney (Hunter), who begs Joe to make Diana “breathe” in the courtroom, in a futile attempt to sway the jury their way.  To complicate matters, Joe finds himself falling for the local postmistress (Ellen Pompeo), with all the tricky fundamentals that that suggests.

Recovery takes many forms, some more dramatic than others.  Writer/director Brad Silberling (who based his story on his own fiancé’s untimely death in 1989) has opted for the loose-ends approach, dropping bits and pieces of past and present into a minimal narrative in an attempt to keep it fresh.  A bit of “The Graduate” (what to do with your life?), and a touch of “In the Bedroom” (family coping with unpredictable grief).

Scene-stealers Sarandon and Hoffman pull out all the stops, occasionally flying too high over the top.  Oscar should come calling for both vets, and definitely for Gyllenhaal, who is finally permitted to break away from his Donnie Darko persona and smile.  His rock in the middle of a storm of anguish keeps the film nicely grounded.

A myriad of manipulative, love-conquers-all moments threaten to drown the project in schmaltz.  But this would-be family more than makes up for its mawkish posing by offering rousing spates of genuine feeling.