'Moonlight' is pretty pale


"Moonlight and Valentino" -- it sounds like a dreamy romance, but be assured, it isn't. A drama? Well, it tries. A comedy? Occasionally. The commercials try to sell it as a romantic comedy, but mostly, "Moonlight and Valentino" features good actresses trying their best to lend some realistic emotion to a contrived drama.

Elizabeth Perkins stars as a poetry professor who is suddenly widowed when her husband is struck by a car while he's jogging. Her acting is moving as she is overcome by grief, but it's not moving enough. That's because there has been no development of her character; we don't understand her, what her husband -- or their relationship -- was like.

Her enigma is barely probed as the film continues: The character's poetry, which surely must elucidate her inner soul, is never even shared with the audience.

Meanwhile, she is helped along by her chain-smoking sister, an eccentric student with boy trouble, played with gawky charm by Gwyneth Paltrow; her ex-stepmother, a generous, barely three-dimensional businesswoman type played by Kathleen Turner; and her best friend, an earth mother who's having husband woes, played by Whoopi Goldberg.

Goldberg is by far the best thing about the film. She gives her character, a potter who dreams about a perfect marriage but lives in the real world, a natural charisma that's refreshing and compelling. Unfortunately, her story, like the others, has an obligatory moment of insight that is never resolved in action -- because director David Anspaugh and the film's editors, presumably, left loose ends all over the cutting-room floor.

The script by Ellen Simon (Neil Simon's daughter), based on her play, is partly to blame. Although it has flashes of wit and is drawn from her own experience, it tries far too hard. For a reality-based story, its dramatic turns are annoyingly mechanical.

The Valentino of the title -- the nickname the women give to a sexy house painter played by rocker Jon Bon Jovi -- is present primarily to be ogled. Perhaps he's supposed to signify freedom, simplicity and fantasy, but the film isn't that deep. Mostly, he just looks cute, and Bon Jovi can do that. He may play the most realistic character: vacuous and handsome and straightforward. One feels sort of bad for him, trampled by a script that's trying so hard to be meaningful.

"Moonlight and Valentino"

Starring Elizabeth Perkins, Whoopi Goldberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kathleen Turner

Directed by David Anspaugh

Released by Gramercy

Rated R (language, sexual talk, brief nudity)


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