Friday, May 21, 2010

Tied up and down

It's hard to believe that Serious Moonlight (2009) was written as an original screenplay, because its physical and emotional landscape has the cramped feeling of a low-grade off-Broadway play. It's not just that it's in one room, it's that it harps on one note. What do you make of a film which has one of its two major characters duct-taped to a toilet for three-quarters of its running time? The whole film seems to have been duct-taped to a toilet.

There is a place for minimalist cinema. Hitchcock and Chaplin both engaged in this--Chaplin in One A.M., a solo turn and Hitchcock in Lifeboat and Rope, which have restricted settings and techniques. Often, the only way to adapt a play which is about confinement is to preserve that confinement, such as Extremities, Dial M for Murder or Wait Until Dark.

This story, which starts as one type of hostage story and then seems to turn into another, has no irrefutable reason that it takes place in the bathroom, and the idea that one character has been trussed up in such a way that he may relieve himself at any time (although not clean himself afterward) makes the whole thing thoroughly repellent.

It's a shame, because the new-model Meg Ryan, as seen in films such as In The Cut and The Deal, burnt but not bitter, angrier and more ironic than her younger self, is quite engaging. And the more recent Tim Hutton, with the swagger and confidence of the man that he is today, as contrasted with the boy we remember from Ordinary People (which, after all, was 30 years ago) is also good company. But though the script by the late Adrienne Shelley (Waitress) has quirks and twists, none of them make the film pleasant or funny.

Which leaves one to wonder whether Shelley directing her own work could have retrieved it from the brink.

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