“Moonlight Mile” has been touted as an early Oscar contender, and while there are definitely a number of things to admire, the film is curiously hard to embrace. But first, the good: the performances. Susan Sarandon is perhaps the only plausible nomination possibility as JoJo, a mother determined to cope with the untimely loss of her daughter on her own terms, even if it means being cynical, selfish and brutally real. As her husband Ben, Dustin Hoffman is memorable without resorting to hamminess, as is Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe, the young man who was engaged to the young woman, Diana. Trumping all of them, however, is luminous newcomer Ellen Pompeo, full of life and soul as Bertie, a bartender/postal worker who rather conveniently has suffered a loss not unlike Joe’s.
That sense of convenience is what keeps Brad Silberling’s film at an arm’s length. Bertie, as played by Pompeo, is such a vibrant, vulnerable and appealing person there needn’t have been such a plot contrivance (with little payoff, at that) to bring her and Joe together. Also rather convenient is the sketchy (at best) development of the dearly departed; when the no-nonsense district attorney (Holly Hunter, in a sharp cameo role) asks Joe to “bring Diana into the courtroom,” one echoes the request to Silberling. Without a clear idea or sense of who she was, we can’t completely sense everyone’s sense of loss or understand the feelings of guilt Joe has over her death and his feelings for Bertie–hence conveniently swaying audience rooting interest for the new romance.
Silberling admirably keeps the film from being one big mope session by injecting a number of light moments into the mix, but even in this area he sometimes tries too hard; for instance, the first meeting between Joe and Bertie, with the two sifting through large mail bins, is a bit too cutesy and their instantaneous openness with each other far too–yes–convenient. Despite such obvious
contrivances, “Moonlight Mile” is, at the very least, an emotionally honest film, but it would have been far more affecting if it felt more true to life.