Though Moonlight Mile‘s narrative is entirely fictional, the emotions cataloged here are based in part on writer-director Brad Silberling’s grief over the loss of his girlfriend Rebecca Schaeffer back in 1989. (Schaeffer, the star of TV’s My Sister Sam, was shot and killed by a crazed male fan after she signed an autograph for him outside her apartment.) Joe Nast (Jake Gyllenhaal) grows uncomfortably close to his deceased fiancée’s parents, living in their home and partnering in her father’s real estate business. Moonlight Mile plays out like an anti-In the Bedroom in that Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and JoJo Floss (Susan Sarandon) negotiate pain via humor rather than broken plates. That’s not to say that Silberling makes light of grief or encourages rituals of denial. Beneath JoJo’s facetious demeanor is a woman who refuses to lose herself to the histrionics of mourning. In one scene, she readily admits that it bothers her just as much when wet blanket sympathizers call her on the telephone than when they don’t. Silberling’s comedy-as-therapy doesn’t always work if only because Ben and JoJo’s healing process feels entirely too lived-in for parents that have just finished burying their daughter. If the director’s own healing process clouds the film’s character trajectories, so does his propensity for the dramatic. Trouper that he is, a remarkable Gyllenhaal transcends Silberling’s most calculated moves: a series of nightmare sequences and a courtroom scenario trying to pass for a no-emotions-barred therapy session. Silberling’s direction is restrained enough to suggest he’s learned a thing-or-20 since City of Angels. His endless references to letters, phones and mailboxes call quiet attention to modes of communication and paths of healing. The film may be too weird and sleepy to make an impact with a large audience but its earnest and undeniably tender touch couldn’t have come at a better time.
This 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Moonlight Mile is a little on the dark side but features excellent image detail and warm skin tones; the film's otherwise dreary aesthetic has been preserved with little to no debris and halos and edge enhancement are absent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly lively for a film so intimate. Dialogue is perfectly audible and sound effects (slamming doors, a dog's vomit) are surprisingly sharp and aggressive.
It may not come as a surprise that Brad Silberling's commentary track for Moonlgiht Mile is a one-of-a-kind experience. More so than the film itself, Silberling's commentary is an earnest and emotional glimpse at the grief he faced when his girlfriend Rebecca Schaeffer was killed in 1989. Silberling reveals his desire to create a work of fiction steeped in emotional truths, one that elaborated on the relationship between himself and Schaeffer's parents once their common bond was gone. Despite the emotional nakedness of the track, it's certainly not a depressing recording. Silberling is careful not to reveal the names of the actors who were wrong or auditioned for the part of Joe Nast though he does say that The Matrix was "a better home" for Keanu Reeves. A second commentary track with Silberling, Jake Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman is much livelier and is perhaps most noticeable for Gyllenhaal's apparent fetish for liquids: in a mere two minutes the actor reveals that he drank fifteen glasses of orange juice on the day of shooting where he had to feed the dog two spoonfuls of Pepto Bismol (which was really Strawberry Quick). Also included here is a serviceable making-of documentary that becomes quite redundant after listening to the disc's two commentary tracks and 10 deleted scenes with director's commentary.
An intimate DVD treatment for an equally quaint and surprisingly rewarding film; maybe not a keeper but something definitely worth looking at for inspiration.