MURDER FORETOLD? ADRIENNE SHELLY’S SCRIPT IS WEIRDLY PRESCIENT

Poor Meg Ryan. There’s something she doesn’t seem to understand about film festivals. If you’re in a movie that plays at one, especially at an important one, and you’re there to do photo ops, you have to come back and do the Q&A session. It’s just nice, polite stuff, something you do with the director and the cast.

But when the lights went up last night at the end of ‘Serious Moonlight,’ an uneven and slightly weird comedy directed by one of our otherwise favorite people, Cheryl Hines of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ fame, Ryan was nowhere to be seen. Hines had to take the stage bravely with crew members, and answer questions from the audience. (Co-star Timothy Hutton was also absent from the entire proceedings, although he may be in Europe shooting the new Roman Polanski film.)

The odd thing is, Ryan had been there when the lights went down. Not only that, she’d done the photo ops outside on the red carpet. Later, she took pictures with Hines at the after party at Tenjune nightclub, which was funny enough in itself. Earlier, I was told that it was probably impossible to attend the after party since ‘Meg doesn’t want anyone there.’

When I asked a security guard outside the Tribeca theater if Ryan had left during the screening, he replied: ‘Before that. I think it was planned that way.’

(Contrast that with a later screening of ‘Handsome Harry,’ a very likeable drama, at which not inconsiderably talented actors Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, Campbell Scott, Aidan Quinn, Karen Young, Marian Mayberry, and Bill Sage stayed through their screening and then did their Q&A like mensches.)

So, in other words, Meg believes in the Groucho Marx joke that Woody Allen famously tells in ‘Annie Hall’: ‘I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me.’

Good for her! Iconoclast is an interesting role to play, especially if you have a lot of money or are well invested to weather the recession. Meg Ryan hasn’t actually had a hit movie since 1998, with ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ She’s had ten flops in a row since then, including such unmemorable turns as “The Deal,” “Into the Cut,” “Against the Ropes,” and more recently, the misguided remake of “The Women.”

She’s had some bad luck, some of in self-inflicted. Her affair with Russell Crowe while making ‘Proof of Life’ (one of those flops) in 1999-2000 caused the end of her marriage to Dennis Quaid. It also seems to have permanently damaged her niche as America’s sweetie, killing off the good will she earned from Nora Ephron‘s “Mail,” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” and the Ephron-scripted Rob Reiner classic, “When Harry Met Sally.”

And then there was the plastic surgery: Ryan fell prey to what so many Hollywood actors shouldn’t. Experiments with all kinds of facial alterations didn’t work, leaving her in strange circumstances.

The good news, maybe the only good news, from ‘Serious Moonlight,’ is that she looks great. Her face is more or less back to normal. Not only that, but Hines and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber shot her in the most flattering ways possible, using great angles and softening light. Ryan hardly looks her age, and more importantly, seems more like her old self.

But ‘Serious Moonlight’ is a weird project. It was written by Adrienne Shelly, the beloved actress-writer-director of ‘Waitress’ who was murdered in her New York apartment in November 2006 by a handy man working in her building. Hines, of course, acted in ‘Waitress,’ which was released after Shelly’s murder. She told IndieWire in a short interview that Shelly’s husband asked to direct ‘Serious Moonlight’ while she was doing press for that charming comedy. She should have said no.

I’m sure ‘Serious Moonlight’ was produced with the best of intentions, but it’s eerily prescient. In the movie, essentially, a handyman’landscape guy played by a squinty Justin Long surprises Ryan in her home, fights violently with her off camera, ties her up with silver ‘duck’ tape and throws her into an upstairs bathroom so he can loot her home with drunk, similarly awful punk friends. He also comes close to molesting her in front of her also-tied up hubby (Tim Hutton). How did the people making the film not see this in the script? Let the fidgeting begin!

‘Serious Moonlight’ is an unfunny comedy that somehow combines the worst elements of Michael Haneke’s miserable ‘Funny Games,’ with Reiner’s ‘Misery.’ It begins with Ryan knocking out and tying up with duct tape Hutton, who’s just announced he’s leaving her for a young tart (Kristen Bell.) Ryan tapes him to the toilet so he can use it while they hash out their marriage. Hutton, who also didn’t make the screening, party or Q&A, spends most of the movie in this position, where he has time to contemplate his career since winning the Oscar for ‘Ordinary People’ a lifetime ago.

Since Shelly’s tragic death, her husband has started a foundation in her memory. He also produced this movie. It was a bad idea, but I’m sure approached with the best of intentions. Frankly, all week leading up to the screening I thought the title meant there was some connection to David Bowie‘s song, ‘Let’s Dance’ in which the refrain ‘serious moonlight’ is heard over and over. Sad to say, that was not the case, and I still have no idea why a movie that takes place mostly in a bathroom got this title in the first place. That, and how much of the budget was spent on duck tape.

Oh, and that after party: seems like Meg got her wish. According to WireImage’s website, no one did show up except for Meg and Cheryl Hines.

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