Director Brad Siberling’s semi-autobiographical 2002 film, Moonlight Mile is one of those rare instances of proficient filmmaking, with an unabashed sentimentality to it that doesn’t hinder the movie. While some might disagree that the film is a success, considering its box office failure and its critical panning, for those who have experienced an unimaginable loss, Moonlight Mile gives a voice for the times when we find ourselves speechless. The story follows a young man who finds himself living the parents of his recently deceased fiancee, as each of them tries to come to terms with their loss in their own way. While the film may not boast the most original plot, it’s handled with a sensitivity that makes it a memorable entry into the “grieving melodrama” sub-genre.
It’s hard to say what it is about the movie that made it such an interesting movie to me especially when similar movies, such as 2009’s The Greatest, have failed to move me but a certain amount of credit belongs to the writing. ,i>Moonlight Mile finds some levity in the bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable circumstances of the film. What should be, by all means, painful and disheartening is somehow offset with an unusual brand of comedy. It dashes between screwball comedy and madcap with an effortless one doesn’t normally find in a dramatic film. As the film progresses, the traces of laughter begin to disappear, but this type of inconsistency is to be expected. Siberling brings us in with a playful approach before systematically bringing us to tears. But to characterize Moonlight Mile as a depressing film ignores its many shades of gray. There’s no real way to define the writing as it is, but it manages to create a real sense of these characters’ worlds, how they’ve been changed by the tragic events that set the movie in motion, and who they are as they try to move on.
If I was asked to select any one part of Moonlight Mile that drives the movie forward, it would easily be the characters. Siberling has the conviction of his characters and it feels as if he knows them inside and out. While this might not sound too impressive, it’s a rarity in filmmaking that one creates dimensional and consistent characters. However, the credit doesn’t belong solely to Siberling, although he served as both writer and director. The cast of Moonlight Mile brings a lot to the table. Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman play the grieving parents, with Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of the dutiful fiancee. Although a supporting player, Sarandon brings an unparalleled vibrancy to her performance. Her character’s refusal to be passive in her own life and in the grieving process was alarmingly realistic, but brought to life with an infectious ferocity. Hoffman mopes around ably but it lacks the emotional intensity of many of the film’s other characters. Still, even the most mediocre performances (and I use that term very loosely) are no match for the film’s lead, a twenty-something Jake Gyllenhaal. The level of quiet intensity, as well as the emotional range that Gyllenhaal displays, cements him as a true talent. His ability to play up comedy while still effectively portraying a wounded and disillusioned youth makes for a complex and alarmingly intimate lead.
Moonlight Mile isn’t without its weaknesses. While I personally enjoyed the movie’s frank depiction of life in all its shades of gray, it would be easy for someone to write them off as uninteresting or even trite. Still, for fans of emotionally rich and quiet understated filmmaking, even in its most maudlin moments, Moonlight Mile is a rich and emotionally sincere experience brought to the screen by Siberling, his unforgettable characters and equally mesmerizing actors.