The Adrienne Shelly story is so tragic that the temptation is to celebrate all the work she left unfinished, as her widower, Andy Ostroy, shepherds her unproduced scripts into production.
But as charming and bittersweet as her farewell film, Waitress, was, that movie felt complete: a script that Shelly had written, found the funds to produce, directed (and acted in) and oversaw the editing of before her murder in 2006.
Serious Moonlight, however, feels just the opposite: flabby, flimsy, lacking in wit or tension. You get the impression that, given time to work on it, Shelly would have seen its flaws, honed the writing and tightened it in the editing.
These are all the things Cheryl Hines hasn't done in making her directorial debut with Serious Moonlight. Under the circumstances - a dead writer, her widower for a producer - you get the impression that Hines was a caretaker, hired to be a traffic cop, rather than as someone who could find and fix the script's many flaws.
The idea is high-concept - or maybe it's just that it's a one-joke premise. A married couple, Louise (Meg Ryan) and Ian (Timothy Hutton), meet at their country home to leave on a long-awaited vacation. Instead, Ian announces that he's leaving the marriage for a younger woman. So Louise bonks him on the head, knocking him out. When he comes to, he is duct-taped to a toilet - and won't be released, Louise says, until he gives up the idea of the divorce.
That's obviously a story-telling cul-de-sac, but the film plays it out, bringing in Ian's new girlfriend (Kristen Bell) and even a burglar (Justin Long), who trusses Louise up as well. This could easily have been a one-set play: Curtain rises on a man taped to a toilet. Comedy ensues.
One huge problem: There are no laughs. The dialogue is shrill and confrontational, with no real punchlines, and the pacing is beyond slack. Ryan and Hutton work at turning it into something more, but that's just not happening.
The problem is clearly the screenplay. Unfortunately for the cast and director Hines, the script was obviously sacrosanct. And that sinks the movie.
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