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Three very good performances lend the necessary weight to writer/director Brad Silberling’s imperfect script to allow Moonlight Mile come out ahead.

Floss, Joe

Gyllenhaal finds the perfect girl at the post officeThe all-star cast features Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon as a married couple who have just lost their only daughter Diana. Her fiancé Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) stays in their home during the funeral, and even agrees to stay for some time afterwards. He has become like a son-in-law to the Flosses. Particularly in this time of grief, he has been a great comfort.

What Ben and Jojo Floss don’t know is that Joe and Diana called off the engagement a month before she died. Joe can’t work up the courage to tell the Flosses what happened. It seems irrelevant at this point anyway. And since Joe has no idea what he wants to do with his life, it’s easier to drift in the currents other people create than to swim without a destination.

Joe meets a girl at the post office that could give some direction to his life. She may become the lighthouse Joe has been looking for.

Good Grief

There are several good grief-stricken performances in Moonlight Mile. The best by far is Susan Sarandon’s. Jojo reacts the least predictably. One moment she turns her emotions outward with catty remarks for close friends, and the next she’s discovering the simple things that make life worth living.

Dustin Hoffman is a meek man, bent on smoothing every social ripple, including the big ones made by his wife. He smiles when he’s uncomfortable and he laughs when he’s nervous. He has grand plans for starting a new career with his “son-in-law” Joe, blind to the tricky realities of business.

Gyllenhaal’s performance looks easy. He drifts along with whatever anyone suggests. He is a blank slate, a neutral observer, the color gray. And yet, something is growing and changing inside Joe that finally comes out at the end.

It’s Obvious

Luckily the performances are as good as they are, because the script doesn’t always work. Director Brad Silberling says he likes comedy in the midst of tragedy. Indeed, there seems to be a seed of truth in that notion. But Silberling can’t think of anything subtle and funny, so he includes grossout and slapstick humor. The Floss’s dog has digestive problems (ha ha). A cat attacks the dog in another scene and Gyllenhaal takes a fall, limbs flailing like Kermit the Frog. I may have even laughed at these bits of “comedy in the midst of tragedy,” but I resented Silberling for being so obvious about it.

I also resented the obviousness of the scene when Joe first meets Bertie (Ellen Pompeo). Bertie is the only employee at the small-town New England post office. Never mind that she’s too young to be running the place, or that she looks like a California model. She’s working here, just waiting for someone like Joe to come along, someone that she can take care of and nurse back to health.

In the end, Moonlight Mile’s good qualities outweigh the bad. The worst script problems are localized to their respective scenes and ultimately, one is left with a satisfying conclusion. The grief is fading and life is starting back up. It’s time for Joe to start swimming.