Moonlight Mile

on September 27, 2002 by Bridget Byrne
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"Moonlight Mile" feels authentic--in its grief, its hope, its eradicable sorrow and its outreach for happiness in the face of despair. Watching the drama, one feels a sense of satisfaction, aware of a filmmaker telling a tale he understands and actors performing roles they can feel proud of. Hollywood provides that too rarely these days. This film doesn't stray from its heart and intelligence in order to indulge in false sentiment or phony antics. This is an auteur piece of filmmaking without pretension, a work that showcases a director, Brad Silberling, who appears to trust his own talent and the exceptional abilities of his cast.

Much of the success of the film lies in the appeal of Jake Gyllenhaal, who--just like the young Dustin Hoffman in "The Graduate"--has to embody dilemma with charm but not cuteness. He succeeds. He plays Joe, a young man whose fiancée has been tragically killed. Her parents try to hold him close in their need to mourn their daughter. Uncertain of his path in life, burdened by this sad twist of fate and hiding an awkward secret, Joe has to find a way to move on and, in doing so, help the parents toward what we now call "closure"--though that is not a term that would have been bandied about freely in the 1970s, when this story takes place.

If this all sounds mawkish, it isn't. It hits all the right beats of sadness and humor. It's a very smart and sensitive twist on a meet-the-in-laws situation and a coming-of-age story. Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman are the parents, both failing to cope with their loss in very different ways. Both characters have moments of confrontation with their own demons and their expectations for Joe, which simply sing full-bodied with their strengths as actors. As the young woman who is Joe's beacon to happiness and ticket out, Ellen Pompeo is a genuine attraction, although her character's backstory doesn't have quite the same resonance as the main plot line. The fate of the town's business district, hungered after by developers, and the outcome of the criminal trial related to the death, although essential elements to the thoughts and feelings of the main characters, also don't have quite such genuine impact as the core. So the roles of Dabney Coleman as a real estate bigwig and Holly Hunter as an attorney seem a little perfunctory.

The sense of time and place--a small town three decades ago, in an era when the conflict of duty and rebellion was reflected in dress and décor--is right on tone. The period music includes, of course, The Rolling Stones--hence the title, which seems more appropriate and less of a marketing ploy once one has seen the movie. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Ellen Pompeo. Directed and written by Brad Silberling. Produced by Brad Silberling and Mark Johnson. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and brief strong language. Running time: 123 min

Tags: Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Pompeo, Directed and written by Brad Silberling, Produced by Brad Silberling, Mark Johnson, Buena Vista, Drama
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