Writer/director Brad Silberling actually lost his fiancée to an inexplicable act of violence, and he used his experience to write a script that authentically portrays the different ways individuals deal with loss.
Funerals can be awkward, especially when the deceased is young, and even more so when her life has been taken by a senseless act of violence. This is the setup for the moving new film “Moonlight Mile.”
Unlike last year’s “In the Bedroom,” a perfect-pitched film that also dealt with parents coping with the unjust death of a young adult child, “Moonlight Mile” does not deal with issues of justice. In fact, “Mile” leaves questions of justice appropriately unanswered. This is a film about grief and about how even though almost everyone must bury a loved one, no one ever really adjusts to the grieving process. No one can be a model for others. Grief, like funerals, is awkward.
“Moonlight Mile” tells the story of three people who grieve the loss of a young girl’s life: her two parents, and her fiancée. This film hopes to pull at the heartstrings, and some of the most emotional moments are revealed to anyone who has seen a “coming attraction” for the film.
On the other hand, there is a much more plot here than one would imagine from those few scenes. There are some unexpected twists, and there are some incredibly honest moments that were saved for those who put down the money for a ticket. Writer/director Brad Silberling actually lost his fiancée to an inexplicable act of violence, and he used his experience to write a script that authentically portrays the different ways individuals deal with loss.
Ben, JoJo and Joe are fictional characters, and no real person may experience all the symptoms of grief that any one of them does, but almost anyone can find one moment, one scene, one emotion acted out on screen that’s recognizable from life experience.
“Moonlight Mile” boasts a top-rate cast with three Oscar winners and one of this year’s hottest young actors in cinema. Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon give gravity to the roles of Ben and JoJo, the parents of the deceased girl. Their marriage has stood the test of time, but it did not expect to endure a tragedy of this proportion.
Because these two fine actors are familiar, it is easy to believe this is happening to a family one knows. Sarandon has played many mothering roles, but it is interesting to compare Hoffman’s work here, playing a father, with his Oscar-winning performance in “Kramer vs. Kramer” over two decades ago.
Another Oscar winner, Holly Hunter, plays the district attorney trying the murder case of the daughter. She is a fine actress, but neither she nor the murder trial is essential to the main theme of the film.
Finally, the lead character, Joe the fiancée, is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who has been in three of the better films of 2002:”Moonlight Mile,” “The Good Girl” and “Lovely and Amazing.” This young man is always a joy to watch on screen, and here he hits every note of someone lost in a world that no longer makes sense and seems to have no exit.
Funeral directors, ministers, florists and others who deal often with people whose grief is fresh know that no two people grieve in the same way. There is no right way, no appropriate way, no model to follow. Some grief is harder than others. Some deaths make less sense. Many times a loss of life can leave things undone, unspoken and downright awkward.
Everyone already knows this; experience is a good teacher. What makes the message of “Moonlight Mile” so appealing is that the film says: “Grieve how you need to grieve. Let no one tell you how to grieve. No matter how awkward it may be, if it helps you get through it, then it is the right way for you.”
Roger Thomas is pastor of NortheastBaptistChurch in Atlanta.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sensuality and brief strong language.
Director: Brad Silberling
Writer: Brad Silberling
Cast: Joe Nast: Jake Gyllenhaal; Ben Floss: Dustin Hoffman; JoJo Floss: Susan Sarandon; Mona Camp: Holly Hunter; Bertie Knox: Ellen Pompeo; Mike Mulcahey: Dabney Coleman; Stan Michaels: Allan Corduner.