MOONLIGHT AND VALENTINO (1995) 1/2 *
A combination of coincidence and trend has just brought us at least three new American movies either directed by women and/or with a nearly all-female cast: Diane Keaton's "Unstrung Heroes," David Anspaugh's ("Hoosiers") "Moonlight and Valentino," and, by Australian Jocelyn Moorhouse ("Proof"), "How to Make an American Quilt."
In "Moonlight" a bunch of relatives and/or friends are trying to support college poetry teacher Elizabeth Perkins after her (also academic) husband is killed in a yuppie accident :a car hits him as he jogs.
"Moonlight" is a would-be tearjerker. The problem is that the tears are on the screen and not in the audience, unless you count tears caused by boredom.
The script, from a play by Neil Simon's daughter, suffers from uninteresting everything : characters, acts, facts and dialogue. A lot of useless yakety-yak here makes the sluggish pace even slower. The talk is of time-killing trivia. The death- in-the-family treatment is far inferior to that in "Unstrung Heroes." The roles are dull and artificially constructed -- much less attention-getting than those in "American Quilt."
The consolers are themselves in need of drastic straightening out too. The ladies bond, de-bond, re-bond. A hefty Whoopi Goldberg, a pottery maker, is unstable, with pathological fears about her husband leaving her. Gwyneth Paltrow, still mixed up from the long-ago death of her mother, spots a kooky, perpetually hat-wearing student of her sister Perkins. The movie telegraphs with hammer-blows that a new twosome is in the making. And as Paltrow has troubles with her virginity, she first shows her body to Big Sis who decrees "You're a knockout. You should never wear clothes." Then she asks Sis for advice on how to moan during sex. Perkins obliges. ( I am not making any of this up). And to think that they now blame the Internet.
Kathleen Turner --whose best role by far was in "Serial Mom" -- is photographed in terribly unflattering ways, with the focus on her oddly soft nose, while she has an un-dimensional, vague part as a self-centered, hard-nosed business exec.
It takes 29 minutes into the film (during which time you waste your energy deciphering matters) to establish relationships or unscramble who's who and what's what. Even then things are not always clear.
The neighborhood seems to be bucolic suburbia --with too many pretty landscape shots -- of the "On Golden Pond" school. For some reason, sentimental family gatherings in movies are located in the East of the United States, unlike the enormous majority of other subjects that all take place in California. (Ph.D. thesis, anyone?)
Perkins teaches a three-minute class (sic). She also injects Francois Truffaut in her lectures, for no discernible reason. Distraught Perkins (the very actress who was recently quoted as deriding Demi Moore's nudity in movies) takes a bath. The mixing of pathos and nipples is counterproductive, distracting indeed, as it is known from statistics that 94.67 percent of men are voyeurs to some degree.
Turner turns out to be the former stepmother of Perkins and Paltrow, whose father, at the funeral reception, is coyly told by his ex that she needs a hug and kisses. He replies "Here's my kiss, and you fax me your hug." That's the movie's best line.
Except for Paltrow's new boyfriend, the main male presence is Bon Jovi's. He is a house painter, an Italian who speaks no English, and whose buns inflame the women's libido. They discuss them openly, until the man turns out to be a real Yankee. (Score one for sitcom humor). His name is wrongly believed to be Valentino, hence the awkward title. The other part of the title comes from Bon Jovi showing up at night to paint the Perkins home. Why night? He's a romantic, which leads of course to intercourse that speeds up Perkins' healing process. (He also relaxes Perkins by teaching her how to eat pizza with her fingers).How exciting. There is a mystery however : is why change the house color from a perfectly nice gray to the color of regurgitation?
The bottom line in this film is that everyone, but everyone, is uninteresting. Not only is everyone unconvincing, but everything stultifies us with boredom, down to the heavy, lachrymose musical score.
Capping all this, the "good-bye to Ben" (Perkins' defunct spouse) finale has all the women, with painted faces, coming to terms with the past by doing a kind of witchcrafty ritual at night, in the cemetery, with loud music and song plus up and down dancing. Then a magic rain falls. Ugh!