“Serious Moonlight”: Black comedy never comes to life

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, December 11, 2009 12:01am
  • Life

“Serious Moonlight” is a strange postscript to the career of Adrienne Shelly, the delightful actress-filmmaker who was killed by an intruder in her New York apartment in 2006.

At the time of her death, Shelly had just completed directing “Waitress,” a rather wonderful little comedy. Some friends and colleagues found Shelly’s original script for “Serious Moonlight” and decided to make the film according to her plans.

Here it is, and it’s the kind of peculiar project that many writers might have kept stashed away in the back of the desk drawer for a reason. It sounds interesting enough on paper, but watching it play out gets to be a chore.

At a country house, Ian (Timothy Hutton) is surprised by the early arrival of his wife, Louise (Meg Ryan). This is because he’s expecting his much younger mistress Sara (Kristen Bell) to walk through the door instead.

As Louise learns the truth, she takes drastic measures to save the marriage. Banging Ian in the head and duct-taping him to a chair, for instance.

At some point Sara is going to show up, which adds a bit of suspense to the mix. Less expected is the arrival of a thief (Justin Long), who gets the upper hand and decides to linger in the house for a while.

Black comedy can be a worthwhile goal, but this movie’s sideways approach doesn’t ignite. The idea’s a little too weird and the style is a little too flat to convince.

Strangely, as bizarre as it is, “Serious Moonlight” comes in a kind of tradition of similar titles: Pedro Almodovar’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”, for instance, was in the same ballpark, and “The Ref” worked a variation on a married couple getting tied up together.

The film is directed by Cheryl Hines, the funny “Curb Your Enthusiasm” actress. She played a role in “Waitress” and took this project on as her first directing effort. Whatever her talents as director are, they seem defeated by the concept.

Meg Ryan seems miscast in the central role, but Timothy Hutton, whose career has wandered around for quite a few years now, actually gets a chance to act for what seems like the first time in a long time. He comes through with a strong, frustrated performance — probably the most memorable element to linger from this oddball thing.

“Serious Moonlight”

A completed script by the late filmmaker Adrienne Shelly is brought to life and it’s a weird one: A wronged wife (Meg Ryan) duct-tapes her hubby (Timothy Hutton) to a chair, hoping to win back his love. The black comedy doesn’t ignite, although Hutton gives a strong performance.

Rated: R for language, subject matter

Showing: Varsity

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