Moonlight and Valentino Review

Shortly after the opening credits have rolled, Rebecca Trager Lott (Elizabeth Perkins) is waiting for husband Dan, late from his morning jog. She finds out the worst: he’s been hit by a car and killed. In an effort to get her through the next week’s grieving, Rebecca’s dominating mother Alberta (Kathleen Turner), Rebecca’s younger sister Lucy (Gwyneth Paltrow) and neighbour Sylvie (Whoopi Goldberg) all arrive. But meanwhile, Rebecca finds a bond with a local house painter (Jon Bon Jovi).

Moonlight and Valentino was released in the UK as counterprogramming to a major football tournament. In this case it was Euro 96, but it’s a strategy that film distributors have tried many times. It rests on a few dodgy assumptions: that only men watch football, that all men are interested in the sport, and that all women (and no men) want to watch romantic comedies or romantic dramas like this one. Sometimes the tactic works – Sliding Doors did very well against the 1998 World Cup – but most often it doesn’t. Moonlight and Valentino rather came and went. It’s a well-made, well-acted film but a slow-moving and talky one. Interestingly, it’s a British production, from Working Title. It can’t have been apparent when this film was in production, but they found their successful template for romantic comedy the year before, with Four Weddings and a Funeral. That film worked, this one didn’t and now seems like an anomaly in their output.

Ellen Simon based her original stage play on her own experiences. There’s no doubt her screenplay is sincere, but she’s inherited from her father (Neil Simon) a tendency every so often to jettison emotional truth for a smart line. David Anspaugh’s direction tends to be self-importantly stately. Julio Macat’s photography of Canadian locations is very nice, even if Scope is an odd format for what is really an intimate drama. (Particularly as it was shot with anamorphic lenses and plainly composed so that it could be cropped to 4:3.)

Ultimately this film stands and falls on its four leading ladies, and they are all very good. This film provided almost the last good roles that both Kathleen Turner and Whoopi Goldberg have had to date, and they seize their opportunities with both hands. Gwyneth Paltrow’s career was on a rise at the time, leading to her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love three years later. High-profile romances with Brad Pitt and others didn’t obscure her acting abilities, and she gives a deft performance as the neurotic Lucy, cigarette always in hand. Elizabeth Perkins was an actress that Hollywood never knew what to do with, probably even less so now she’s in her forties. Too sharp and intelligent to play girlfriend or bimbo roles, she had had to survive such dire films as The Flintstones while some of her best work went unseen: check out Enid is Sleeping (aka Over Her Dead Body) for Perkins at her best. Incidentally, she went on to marry Julio Macat, her cinematographer here.

It’s really a four-women show, but Peter Coyote puts in a self-effacing (and uncredited) performance as Sylvie’s husband Paul. Jon Bon Jovi was starting on an acting career which continues but is intermittent. He gives an able performance here, even if his role is not much more than providing hunky eye candy…something he certainly knew how to do in his main job as a rock star. The soundtrack includes R.E.M.’s “Strange Currencies” and, over the end credits, “Shelter”, sung by Maria McKee with her old band Lone Justice.

Moonlight and Valentino is a decent movie that somehow you can’t get excited about. It’s certainly recommended to fans of any of the four leading actresses, or of Mr Bon Jovi. But it’s a film that’s not as funny, or as moving or as involving as it might be.

Moonlight and Valentino was shot in Scope, and the DVD has an anamorphic transfer in the ratio of 2.40:1. The picture quality is fine, a little soft which I suspect is intentional. There’s some artefacting, particularly in a scene in a steam room and also in the final sequence, but it’s not too distracting. Generally the film is colourful and blacks are solid, though occasionally shadow detail is lacking.

This is a MGM back-catalogue disc (inherited from Polygram’s now-defunct film distribution company). Presumably MGM doesn’t hold the rights in some of its usual territories, as there are only three menu choices (English, French and Spanish) instead of five and fewer subtitle options. The soundtracks are available in the original English and French and Spanish dubs, all in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a surround encoding. There’s also a mono track in Polish: not strictly a dubbed version, as it has a male voiceover behind which you can hear the English track mixed down low. The English track is a fairly standard mix, generally mono with the surrounds used for the music score and some ambience, such as street sounds.

As with other MGM discs, there are sixteen chapter stops and no extras at all. The menus use symbols rather than words. The disc is encoded for Regions 2 and 4.

This is a “women’s movie” without a doubt, though many women don’t see such films – and some men do. It’s a worthwhile hour and three quarters but don’t expect miracles. The DVD is bare-bones and not really worth full price: buy it in a sale instead.

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