It has to be said that – especially among male film reviewers – the mid '90s wave of so-called chick flicks (films centring on women's lives, problems and emotions) tends to stir up almost instant derision.
This is partly a lousy, ideological hangover from the days when women's weepies were automatically viewed as second-class pop culture. And it is partly because some recent films of this ilk, such as Waiting to Exhale (1995) and The Cemetery Club (1993), have truly been excruciating to behold.
In this context, Moonlight and Valentino arrives as a welcome surprise. It is a touching, funny, well-crafted chick flick. And it boasts some winning peculiarities of mood and viewpoint.
The story, smartly scripted by Ellen Simon, deals with issues of grief, emotional estrangement and neurotic insecurity as they affect the lives of a group of female friends. Rebecca (Elizabeth Perkins) loses her husband in a car accident. Sylvie (Whoopi Goldberg) is worried about her marriage. Lucy (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a nervy, withdrawn character. And Alberta (Kathleen Turner) is a veritable fortress of defences and smooth-talk evasions.
The trailer for this film makes it seem as if a handsome, house-painting stranger (Jon Bon Jovi) blows in like a twister and changes the lives and temperatures of all these characters. In fact, he is only a catalyst in this story of survival and growth, not the determining pivot. He matters (especially to Rebecca), but no woman's destiny depends on him.
Director David Anspaugh proved with Hoosiers (1986) that he can give a distinct spin to formulaic, feel-good material. The unique element in this film is its close attention to physical, bodily states. Depression, anxiety, sorrow, erotic ecstasy, all are portrayed in a refreshingly earthy, unmystical way.
What a novelty: a chick flick with its feet on the ground rather than its head in the clouds.
© Adrian Martin September 1996