“Moondance” is a small but commendable comedy about modern marriages with a serious side. Despite weak center, film’s witty dialogue, assured direction and inspired performances may have the capacity to communicate to selected audiences beyond fest circuit and art houses.
Tale begins with arrival of two couples at a secluded mountain cabin for a weekend reunion. Contrast between the couples is immediately established by their cars; Eric and Amy drive an old Volkswagen; Willie and Francis a black convertible BMW.
For a while, film seems to head toward “The Big Chill” or “Return of the Seacaucus 7” territory, but writer-director-producer-editor Martin L. Aguilar fortuitously steers his narrative in another direction.
Not exactly a yuppie angst yarn, though all four characters are white upper-middle class, story contrasts two relationships.
Eric (Joris Stuyck) is an angry young man, tormented by a frustrating relationship with his dying father and financial problems. Sensitive wife Amy (Patti Tippo) makes every effort to understand him, but her overconcern invariably ends in humiliation.
On the opposite end of spectrum are Francis and Willie (Lisa Moncure and Steve Ruggles), a fun-loving and free-spirited couple, who a year ago quit their jobs and went to Europe.
In actuality, of course, the relationships are not at all what they appear to be. Avoiding melodramatic cliches of reunion movies, Aguilar combines novelistic detail with insightful observations about friendship and marriage. Script is thoughtfully constructed with neatly placed shards of humor and irony. Gleeful dialogue is always fluent demonstrating Aguilar’s keen facility with language.
After half-an-hour of straight realism, helmer regrettably switches to a fantasy-dream sequence, in which characters are given opportunity to express secret desires, rekindle old passions, confront risky issues and face themselves more honestly. Though never boring, this overly long section falters. Too schematic, its conceits are not ingenious or funny enough.
As scripter and director, Aguilar’s achievement is in steering clear of both condescension and idealization of his characters.
He shapes each of the four personalities vividly and mercilessly, with a sharp satirical edge. For the most part, Aguilar’s work is tight and tidy.
Though entire cast is strong, Moncure gives a stand-out performance as the mischievous and cynical Francis. Her acute line delivery cuts through to the underlying sadness of her character.
Technically, modestly-budgeted indie is first-rate, particularly Gregory Von Berblinger’s crisp lensing and Michael R. Smith’s soft and moody music.