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‘Moonlight Mile’helps show the lighter side of dark

Death is not a pretty subject, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the first 30 minutes of Brad Silberling’s Moonlight Mile. Silberling, who wrote and directed the potent film, shows an early portrait of a family in control after losing its daughter.

The film begins on the day of Diana Floss’ funeral, as the audience is introduced to Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal), her former fiancé. Joe and Diana returned to the home of her parents, Ben and Jojo, (played by Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon) only weeks before her death, and Joe was planning on becoming a partner in Ben’s commercial real estate business. With Diana gone, Joe is left living with Ben and Jojo, feeling a sense of responsibility to a family that was never really his.

This situation is awkward, for sure, but Silberling prevents it from feeling tragic by bringing humor into the picture. There is the Floss’ family dog that is fed two spoonfuls of Pepto Bismol with every bowl of food, yet still manages to throw up during the reception following Diana’s funeral. There is the funeral procession where the driver accidentally starts the car up with his radio blaring. And there are the girls who scurry into the Floss’ home only days after the funeral to raid Diana’s wardrobe.

With all the absurdities surrounding Diana’s death, the main characters find their own method of coping, and they’re sticking to it. No one cries. No one utters banal platitudes about how Diana was “too young” or “too innocent” to die. Instead, they take it chin up and are ready to fire back at the world.

The feistiest of the bunch is Jojo, who barks orders at Ben while maintaining a brutal honesty in her cynical nature. Sarandon shows that she’s still just as snappy as ever, playing a character who’s not into mourning, and even less into putting up with other people’s condolences, regardless of their intention.

Ben is more subdued. He is courteous to everyone, telling his wife, “Just put yourself in their shoes. What are they supposed to do?” Hoffman’s Ben is the perfect antithesis to Sarandon’s bossy JoJo, both in performance and in stature. During one scene, Ben is sitting on a bench talking to Joe, but Hoffman’s legs don’t even reach the ground, so he just swings them in the air like a child. It’s perfect.

Joe is at the center of everything. The up and coming Gyllenhaal gets top billing over Sarandon and Hoffman, but he backs it up with another solid performance. Some still confuse Gyllenhaal with his Hollywood look-alike Tobey MaGuire, but after strong performances here and in last month’s The Good Girl, he is the more likely of the two to pick up an Oscar this year.

Once the carefully maintained coping mechanisms begin to crack for Joe and the Flosses, Silberling masterfully brings it all down, with minor plot creases unfolding along the way. Moonlight Mile carries its share of surprises, but none are really shocking plot twists. Each just sort of develops naturally as the characters try to dig themselves through the situation.

Although the film is certainly a Hollywood vision with a perfectly paced storyline and a nice wrap-up at the end, Silberling manages to keep it from being trite through his writing and with the help of a flawless cast.

It requires a tough balance for any crew to pull off a drama these days, especially in the fall, when audiences become inundated with the genre.

But Moonlight Mile rises to the challenge beautifully.

Contact Dustin Dwyer at