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Pet peeves are dangerous, letting the tiniest faux pas completely tarnish your impression of a person, restaurant or even a movie. It’s clear from the start that Serious Moonlight is likely to be a serious drag, but the utterance of the phrase ‘I could care less’ seals the deal. It’s ‘I couldn’t care less,’ and do you know what I couldn’t care less about? This movie.
Louise (Meg Ryan) has plans to spend a quiet weekend with her husband Ian (Timothy Hutton), at their vacation home in the country. Little does she know, Ian has some plans of his own. He’s arrived a day early to romance his new flame, Sarah (Kristen Bell), and just before Louise is scheduled to arrive, they plan to flee to Paris. If only it were that easy. Louise arrives early and catches him preparing for his guest. He explains to Louise he’s fallen out of love with her and, naturally, she doesn’t take it very well. What isn’t so natural is that she proceeds to duct tape him to a chair to force him to stay and work things out.
Okay, it sounds ridiculous, but the premise has potential until a wild-eyed Ryan takes Serious Moonlight from a passionate romance to pure horror. Louise is freaky. Not knife-wielding freaky, but like recently-escaped-from-the-asylum freaky. Ryan’s overacting strips Louise of her humanity, making her come across as a deranged lunatic. I get this is where the humor is supposed to come in, but nothing is remotely funny, and when the shock of Ryan’s madness wears off, banter between Louise and Ian just becomes boring.
Hutton is fine and, for the most part, believable. The problem is that whenever his character evokes even the slightest bit of your compassion, Ryan stomps back onscreen and all over your empathy. Thankfully she simmers down as the movie goes on, which will make getting to the end tolerable, but overall, her performance is inexcusable.
You’ll be thrilled when Justin Long, as a burglar moonlighting as a gardener, spices up the plot a bit, but overall he's a weak character. He mocks Ian’s situation as though he’s a child, dispenses love advice and throws in a few good punches just to show he’s a tough guy. Wait? Is this an amateur thief, a therapist or a brutal crook? The multifaceted robber would have worked if he didn’t come across as three completely different characters. Long does what he can and at least takes the attention off Ryan and Hutton.
Making matters worse, the story is weak. The premise and plot twist could have been fun, but underdeveloped characters kill the movie. All emotional engagement relies on the conversations between Louise and Ian. A few scenes reminiscing about their wedding day is not enough to make you believe that they ever had something worth saving. Even when Long enters the picture putting the couple in real danger, you’re apathetic. Of course I’m hesitant to put any blame on the late Adrienne Shelly’s screenwriting, but I am confident that if she were still here today, she’d have seen the problems and fixed them. Instead, her last piece fell into the hands of first time director Cheryl Hines and Shelly’s husband, producer Andy Ostroy, who were likely reluctant to make alterations. While the circumstances are no excuse to leave a screenplay unpolished, their loyalty is honorable.
That leaves just one person with a big red ‘x’ on her head, Meg Ryan. Her performance is impossible to overlook because it spans the entire film. She’s onscreen most of the time and the majority of the emotional response rests on her character’s transition. She tries way too hard to reestablish her professional reputation and ultimately turns Serious Moonlight into a meaningless and annoying film destined for oblivion, right alongside her other recent efforts.