red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

Moonlight Mile

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Holly Hunter, Ellen Pompeo
Director: Brad Silberling
Released: September 2002; available on DVD

 

Stephanie Zacharek's Salon.com review of this movie has it right: it may be the funniest movie about grief ever made. While that may not sound like much to recommend it, it's actually quite a lot, when you realize that every change we make — good, bad, positive, negative, exciting, scary — also requires that we grieve for whatever the other, the unchosen, option was. In this country, at this point in time, we give far too little attention to the grief that comes from any change, even death, and the time and effort needed to heal those wounds.

But Moonlight Mile is a funny movie. As it reminds us of how we can be guilt-tripped into doing things we don't like or wouldn't normally choose, it shows us how real people might act under overwhelming and stressful circumstances. Some of that is both messy and funny — just like life. How hard would it be to tell the parents of your fiancée — who's just been killed in a horrible incident that will lead to a court battle — that (before the tragedy) the relationship had come to an end and you'd both decided to call off the engagement? Just try sharing such information gracefully when you're in the midst of the meet-all-the-family-and-friends-after-the-funeral greetings and you're also staying with your ex's parents.

Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon, as the parents of the dead girl, show us the realities of heartbreak, unreasonable selfishness, and denial that accompany loss and grief. Jake Gyllenhaal is the young man trying to do the right thing by everyone, living and dead — and trying not to lose himself in the process.

The dilemmas are real. The choices are not obvious and they have consequences. The story plays out on multiple levels, with multiple characters, and gives us a chance to experience the hard choices vicariously. We also get to smile and laugh a lot.

 

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