'Serious Moonlight' starts with a unique and interesting premise on salvaging a troubled marriage, but the execution by first-time director Cheryl Hines (best known as Larry David's wife on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm') ruins much of the narrative's potential. A war of words that lays all the chips on the table, the script, written by the late Adrienne Shelly (Waitress'), is serious about shrewdly examining how a seemingly perfect union suddenly turns sour. Focused strictly on the exchanges between the couple, the production moves along like a stage play and slowly reveals where mistakes were made. Ultimately, the romantic black comedy will likely be remembered more for the sad, unfortunate story surrounding its creator than for the film itself.
The movie's most intriguing aspect comes from a wife's refusal to give in to her husband's demands for a divorce. Not accustomed to defeat, Louise (Meg Ryan) pleads to talk things out with Ian (Timothy Hutton) while in their upstate getaway home. You may recall these two stars had some romantic difficulties fifteen years ago in another, far better movie: 'French Kiss.' Anyway, back to this one. Despising the idea of being replaced by the much younger Sara (Kristen Bell), Louise takes drastic measures by fastening her adulterous spouse to a toilet with duct tape. Probably a fitting position, given his betrayal and a maneuver I'm sure many women would love to perform on their cheating partners. But it also begs the question: why is he worth fighting for? And this is where the plot suddenly becomes problematic.
Ian is clearly in the wrong in this situation, but we spend a great deal of time instead searching for where Louise failed as a wife. The promise of discussing where each person failed one another is flushed down the toilet for a strong female lead to . . . bake cookies? Complicating matters, the filmmakers thrown in a strange subplot with gardener Todd (Justin Long) burglarizing their house, which only adds unnecessary tension to their marriage. The entire situation almost seems to suggest that his position of helplessness and an inability to protect his wife will miraculously reignite his love for Louise. This is all quite confusing if not a far stretch from the story's original intent, especially after learning that much of the responsibility appears to fall on Louise.
The only thing maintaining interest comes from the interaction of Ryan and Hutton, their genuine heartfelt talks about a failed nuptial agreement. As we said, the last time we saw them together, an unshaven, shady and very French Kevin Kline was an essential component to unite the two. Here, they carry over much of the same rapport and push the comedy forward. Admittedly, I’ve always enjoyed Ms. Ryan’s bubbling enthusiasm, and she continues that same lively personality, mixed with a woman honestly disturbed by her husband's abrupt desire to call it quits. It's that same energy she brings to the role and makes the film a bearable watch, even somewhat fun. Kristen Bell holds her own pretty well amongst veterans, but there's nothing special or noteworthy in her performance either. The real sore thumb is the expandable Justin Long. After his roles in 'Old Dogs' and 'Youth in Revolt,' he'll soon be known more for his bad acting than for his comedic timing.
What could have been a very intriguing study of marital issues and whether certain ruined marriages are worth saving is wasted on this adaptation of Shelly's final script. The potential to add something fresh and original to the genre is definitely there, but 'Serious Moonlight' ends up taking a seriously wrong turn with the whole hostage angle and wrecks its unique premise. In better, more experienced hands, the comedy might have been quite entertaining and memorable. But as it stands, we couldn't care less if Ian left with Sara while Louise continued baking cookies, wondering how a successful female attorney failed her adulterous husband.
'Serious Moonlight' arrives on Blu-ray with video quality that seesaws between boringly mediocre and horridly below average. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer (1.85:1) is incredibly inconsistent and only infrequently offers a scene which indicates we’re watching a high-def presentation.
Some of its best moments look nicely detailed or at least adequate, but there aren't many of them. Generally, the encode is exceedingly soft one minute and the next terribly unfocused with very poor resolution. Arguably, diffusers could be the culprit, but that doesn’t make much sense in the overall scheme of things, except for a couple of flashback segments. Colors also fluctuate between accurately stable and overly saturated in certain areas, but mostly, they fall flat and weak. Flesh tones tend to either be flushed or on the red side. While contrast levels feel drab and sluggish, there are several moments, especially in daylight exteriors, of highlights blooming and posterization with a couple of instances of negligible chroma noise.
Blacks are the picture's best feature, appearing precise and accurate throughout. Shadow delineation is only about average. In the end, the transfer is pretty appalling for a Blu-ray.
Things improve somewhat on the audio side of things, with an adequate, though quickly forgotten DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Of course, the original design most likely had little to work with, but for a Blu-ray, this comes across as ordinary and frequently flat, since much of the action is localized in the center channel. This one fact works well as dialogue reproduction is well prioritized and intelligible. The music selection does make decent use of the other two speakers to open up the soundstage, which makes for a warm welcome. On the other hand, dynamic range is as humdrum as they come, and low-frequency effects are anemic at best. Surround speakers are practically non-existent and never showed a single discrete effect that I could remember. Overall, this lossless track feels lifeless and uninteresting.
Magnolia Home Entertainment delivers 'Serious Moonlight' with a package of supplements that are incredibly below par and not worth much.
'Serious Moonlight' could have offered an intriguing take on marital troubles and the ruination of modern unions, but it turns instead into a bizarre situation involving burglary and hostages. The final script by the late Adrienne Shelly is brought to life by the chemistry between Meg Ryan and Timothy Hutton, yet it's weighed down by Cheryl Hines' inexperienced direction. The Blu-ray debuts with a mediocre and disappointing audio/video package and a substandard assortment of bonus features. In the end, the entire package has very little else to offer.