Somewhere inside Serious Moonlight is a provocative theme struggling to get out: the dilemma of longtime wives who've been traded by their husbands for a newer model. In contrast to the "First Wives" fantasy, where fired mates mount an improbable revenge, Serious offers a cheeky alternative: don't get even -- just stay married.
At their country house in upstate New York, Louise (Meg Ryan) receives the news that Ian (Timothy Hutton), her husband of thirteen years, is about to jet off to Paris with her replacement (Kristen Bell). Instead of the typical wronged wife's lament, Louise bonks Ian on the head with a flower pot, binds him in duct tape, and cheerily announces he ain't goin' nowhere till he renounces his mad plan, professes his love her, and commits to working on their marriage together.
The film was adapted by director Cheryl Hines (of Curb Your Enthusiasm) from a script by the much-loved Adrienne Shelly (Waitress), who was murdered in 2006. And thanks to Shelly, Meg Ryan fires off some nifty lines, much the film's strong suit. But since the action is entirely confined to the couple's fancy faux farmhouse, you sense the movie would have worked better as a theater piece.
So it's almost a relief when a lawn guy (Justin Long) turns out to be a hoodlum, injecting a little mayhem into the static, claustrophobic setting. He imprisons Louise in the john with Ian, who are joined by Ian's vacuous honey, fresh from the Air France terminal. When he proceeds to trash and rob the house this comic parable veers into Funny Games territory.
There's also the yuck factor: Ian finds himself duct-taped to the toilet and Hutton, poor man, must deliver his lines with his drawers around his ankles, hairy legs on display. A final twist suggests there's something fishy to Louise's triumph, but delivers too little, too late. And do we believe Meg Ryan as a high-powered lawyer? If I were a client I'd worry the billable hours were spent ironing her Lorelei tresses.
Still, Serious is worth seeing for the truth-telling agenda at its heart. Along with the forthcoming "It's Complicated" by Nancy Meyers, it focuses on love in the middle years. And Louise gets to voice some un-p.c. sentiments about the life of a forty-something divorcee, which contrasts strikingly with the life her former husband can expect -- stuff, frankly, that's usually swept under the rug by positive-thinking America.
"I refuse to be without you," Louise declaims at Ian. "I refuse to be lonely. I refuse to go to the movies alone." Nor does she want to answer online ads, watch TV, and "deepen her relationships with women."
The script also exhumes the quaint notion of promises and vows. Attempting to woo Ian back, Louise evokes their history together, pleading with him to remember "the unbearable sweetness of the first days of the marriage." "But we're not those people any more," Ian objects, further claiming that workaholic Louise never even noticed when things soured. "Serious" uses a preposterous hi-concept to explore serious issues: the bedrock values of a culture, which have been overtaken by the worship of personal growth.
Perhaps the most implausible turn comes at the end, when Ian rejoices in how easy it was to sell the house.