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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Moonlight and Valentino (Blu-ray)
Moonlight and Valentino (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // R // February 16, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted March 22, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Moonlight and Valentino is a movie that feels like it ought to work. Armed with the strong foundation of a stage play, starring four extremely talented women (and one charismatic rock star), the pieces appear to be there for a good movie. Moonlight and Valentino also doesn't fail spectacularly or all at once. Instead, it just stumbles repeatedly until the accumulation of these little rough patches add up to a movie that just isn't very satisfying.

Elizabeth Perkins plays Rebecca, whose life is abruptly and suddenly derailed when her husband is hit by a car while out jogging and killed. As she struggles to cope with her newfound widowhood (she repeatedly worries about metamorphosing into Georgia O'Keefe), she relies on the strength of her closest friends: her sister Lucy (Gwyneth Paltrow), her former mother-in-law Alberta (Kathleen Turner), and her neighbor Sylvie (Whoopi Goldberg). All four women are having their own kinds of relationship trouble: Lucy is a virgin who's never dated anyone, Sylvie is struggling to keep her marriage to her husband Paul (Peter Coyote) intact, and Alberta -- who prefers savoring the mystery of attractive men to actually becoming intimate with them -- is just hoping to find peace with Lucy, who resents her. Slowly, tentatively, Rebecca starts to figure out what her life will be without her husband in it...just as Alberta arranges for a handsome house painter known only as "The Painter" (Jon Bon Jovi) to give Rebecca's house a new look.

Although nothing in Moonlight and Valentino is so bad that it can easily be made a scapegoat for the film's mediocrity, there's a sense that Ellen Simon's adaptation of her own play isn't completely successful. There is something about the way the characters speak and interact with each other, a stilted and choreographed air to the timing and style of the writing, that feels tied to the stage. Thanks to the chemistry of the cast, there is the occasional scene that feels natural and real (such as Rebecca and Lucy playing a game while visiting a spa, or Rebecca's first date with the Painter, where they guess each other's history), but these moments are the exception rather than the rule. There is also the sense that at least a few dramatic beats that would better inform details like Lucy's fear of looking at her own body and her perception that Alberta is not acknowledging Rebecca and Lucy's late mother were trimmed for pacing or time, weakening the character arcs.

Of course, some of the awkwardness could also have to do with director David Anspaugh, who frequently allows his blocking and style to feel stagey and artificial, with characters speaking to each other but looking off into the distance together. The film ought to feel intimate and raw, but the slow-motion effect he uses to portray Rebecca's shock and grief at discovering her husband is dead is startlingly ineffective -- why not let Perkins just perform it without drowning it in cheap style? -- and the film has the bland hit-your-marks rhythm of a sitcom. Only rarely, such a scene where Sylvie leads Rebecca to unwittingly break into a neighbor's beautiful home, or Rebecca and Lucy sharing Indian food and watching a movie together, does Anspaugh convey the sort of warmth and sincerity that the story is clearly meant to be centered around.

Although the movie is generally awkward and ineffective, fumbling both its dramatic opening and cathartic finish, the film's saving grace is Elizabeth Perkins, who gives a fantastic performance even as the material fails her. There's a complexity to her emotional state that feels like an honest and sympathetic examination of grief, one that can turn on a dime from the flirty exhilaration of sleeping with The Painter to shattered regret. The film concludes with Rebecca and her friends convening at her husband's grave to say goodbye, but the movie's real climax has already occurred, a heart-wrenching scene in which Rebecca expresses her anguish over her last interaction with him and all the things she feels she isn't allowed to think about him now that he's no longer around. For a moment, Perkins manages to push past the artificiality of the script and the artificiality of the direction to capture something genuine and moving -- a fitting eulogy for the movie that Moonlight and Valentino could have been.

The Blu-ray
The differences between home video design trends can be seen in the change between Moonlight and Valentino's DVD art from 2001 and the Blu-ray release in 2016. Back then, the four floating heads of the lead actors hovered over an image of the house. Now, four photographs of them from the film are arranged in a grid with some artful touches in terms of the font and the backdrop, which suggests either watercolors or wine (I'm assuming the latter). The single-disc release comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is a postcard insert that will score owners the Olive Films mail catalog if they send it in.

The Video and Audio
Moonlight and Valentino achieves adequacy in HD with a 2.39:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. This is clearly a dated master, full of scratches and flecks and other minor amounts of damage. There is also an inescapable flatness to the image, and a faintly smeary or blocky look that probably stems from seeing the presentation in its maximum resolution rather than compressing a larger image down. There also seems to be a hint of sharpening. Still, there is a level of detail that just wouldn't have been present on the 2001 DVD, and colors are nicely saturated, giving the image a degree of visual flair. The stereo soundtrack is pretty simple, dealing with little more than dialogue, which sounds fine, but lacks a certain immediacy or crispness that one generally associates with an uncompressed track. Like the picture, there's a sense that it's a touch flat. As is Olive's M.O., no subtitles or captions are included.

The Extras
None, other than an original theatrical trailer.

Fans of Elizabeth Perkins may want to see Moonlight and Valentino once in order to catch one of her best performances, but general audiences don't need to bother. There's a great movie in the premise, and the cast assembled here ought to be up to the challenge, but the movie just doesn't click. Rent it.

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