Serious Moonlight -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

You could call "Serious Moonlight," snappily written by the late actress-writer-director Adrienne Shelly, a five-and-dime "War of the Roses." This is meant as a compliment, as the film, like its similarly themed forebear "The Waitress," is a rollicking, nasty ride into the disintegration of a marriage pairing spoiled, upscale spouses. Helped by kind reviews, the film should pull in upscale art house patrons. And "Waitress" fans too will be well-served.

Not just a frivolous jousting match, "Moonlight" has its serious side as an intelligent peephole into the psychological and sexual dynamics that can drive a once loving, loyal couple to the edge of criminality.

Meg Ryan is terrific as high-powered Manhattan lawyer Louise, who, visiting a day early the country house she and husband Ian (Timothy Hutton) share, discovers the premises strewn with lovely flower pedals. This, she soon learns after a startled Ian arrives, is in anticipation of his young mistress, Sara (Kristen Bell), whom he expects to whisk off to Paris the next day. Not a nice farewell gesture to his wife of 13 years.

Maybe we've seen Louise before, in characters played by Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and others, but Ryan makes Louise a ballsy, believable bitch to behold. Upon her discovery, Louise takes action by duct-taping Ian and holding him prisoner in the house, hoping he'll come to his senses. The back-and-forth that ensues isn't just a war of the sexes but a war of wills as Ian tries to talk his way out of a bad situation and Louise holds firm, even baking the cookies Ian adores.

What sends the plot further spinning is the arrival of opportunistic, lowlife landscaper Todd (Justin Long), who quickly takes advantage of the situation by tying up all parties so he and his cronies can trash the premises and party. Also late to the scene and tied up in the bathroom with the sparring spouses is Sara, who expects a romantic country prelude to the escape to Paris.

Hutton shines as the roving, besieged husband who learns in a heartbeat that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Bell does honorably with her all-too-familiar hot female spoiler character.

In her feature directing debut, Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") oversees a handsome production and moves the story vigorously.

With its single locale and few characters, the film easily could have worked as a play. Some situations, like a falling pot rendering Ian unconscious, strain credibility. But overall, "Moonlight" is a nuttily engaging tale of betrayal and, perhaps, redemption.

Screened: Saturday, April 25
Production: Night & Day Pictures, All for A Films
Cast: Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell, Justin Long
Director: Cheryl Hines
Screenwriter: Adrienne Shelly
Producers: Andy Ostroy, Michael Roiff
Executive producers: Cliff Chenfeld, David Graff, Dan Katcher, Todd King, Rick Milenthal, Dawn Porter, Isabel Rose, Todd Stein
Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber
Production designer: Cecil Gentry
Music: Andrew Hollander
Costume designer: Ariyela Wald-Cohain
Editor: Steven Rasch
No rating, 84 minutes