Bird Watching – Cheryl Hines’s “Serious Moonlight”
One might, in general, think that a bad way to get someone to love you is to throw a flower pot at their head, knocking them unconscious, then duct tape them to a chair so they wake up unable to move. Louise, played by Meg Ryan in the film Serious Moonlight (2009), doesn’t think this is so odd at all. (Alright, to be fair…the flower pot was a lucky impulse throw.) Louise has just arrived a day early at her country house, to find her husband Ian (Timothy Hutton) preparing for a romantic interlude with his mistress, and planning to tell Louise that he wants a divorce. At first, Louise takes this news in stride; she insists that Ian is being rash and that the two of them can work it out, like they’ve worked things out before. Once it becomes clear that Ian really means it, though, the flower pots start flying and the high jinks ensue.
Louise simply insists that she will not let Ian go until he loves her again. Once this set-up is in place, the film switches gears from fairly typical relationship dramedy territory into bizarre black comedy. It’s not so much that Louise has cracked; her serene determination to keep Ian in the chair until he loves her again doesn’t come off as a new mania. It’s more like Ian’s announcement is so against the grain of her reality that reality itself becomes a lot weirder in that moment. Flower pot to head, screen goes black, and we wake up with a new set of rules.
Things get even wackier when Louise falls for Ian’s pleas that he needs to use the bathroom, and promises that he won’t run away again if she lets him go. Weird scene of domestic violence short, Ian ends up duct taped to the toilet this time. (I told you this was bizarre.) Ian’s situation is about to get even worse, however, when Louise heads to town to buy the fixins for a romantic meal. At just this inopportune moment, enter burglar (Justin Long). Then, re-enter Louise…enter burglar’s friends…and finally, enter mistress (Kristen Bell). The high jinks pile up; soon the entire love triangle is duct taped in the bathroom; and the really funny thing is, through all this, Ian might actually be falling back in love with Louise after all.
I could easily see this screenplay, from the late Adrienne Shelly, having been a stage play. This isn’t just because of the mostly contained setting; though I enjoyed the film, the tone doesn’t always hit its mark, and kicking it up another notch with the immediacy of a play might have been just the ticket. Still, there are some good laughs here if you can get into the vibe of awful people being awful to each other. It’s also a solid performance from Ryan, who really has the job of holding the film together. At first, we see Louise as a typical workaholic whose relationship is suffering because of it. She’s essentially a stock character—the woman who tries to have everything. Luckily we move past that quickly, as it’s not the realm where Ryan does her best work. She may have the reputation for playing sweetheart roles, but her greatest hit—Sally in When Harry Met Sally—was really an extremely odd character, but one who didn’t know how odd she was. Louise works like a dark flipside of the same kind of “sailing through life, wanting things the way you want them” attitude Sally displayed. You can feel Ryan basking in it and having fun with her trademark cutesy, wacky big gestures, which take on a sinister bit of crazy in this context. It’s nice to see her working at top gear, and for the most part, the three other main players keep up with her. It’s not a comedy ensemble I ever would have imagined (Justin Long and Timothy Hutton! Together again for the first time!), but it gels somehow.
This was the feature directorial debut for Cheryl Hines (Shelly’s co-star in her film Waitress), and she does a good job of contrasting the off-beat, twisted relationship of the two main characters with the idyllic country house setting. There are moments that don’t work as well as others, and I can’t help but be curious what the final product might have felt like if Shelly had had the chance to film her script. She just had a certain mastery at capturing the absurd. But, overall, I believe the film to be better than the reviews it got upon its release, which were mostly negative. I am always on the lookout for good dark comedy, and most of it here worked for me—including one final turn in the last scene that I’m guessing might have been a dealbreaker moment for some of those critics. I don’t know, maybe the film deserves another look, or maybe I was just in the mood for people being terrible to each other. Either way, if you ever find yourself in that mood, this is a film to check out.