DVD Review: Moonlight Serenade (2006)

Now Available to Own

By this point, it's no secret that two time Oscar nominated actress Amy Adams can sing. And to my great thrill, I was fortunate enough to have learned that lesson by seeing Ms. Adams live and onstage on numerous occasions at Minnesota's highly regarded Chanhassen Dinner Theatre both while I came-of-age with a particular fondness for musicals and Adams likewise honed her craft and the development of her instrument.

While at the time, I didn't realize that the charismatic star would eventually become one of our generation's most versatile actresses, I always knew that there was something undeniably familiar about her sweet smile, innocence, and pitch-perfect voice even when she didn't sing in her Oscar nominated turns in Junebug and Doubt.

Yet fortunately, my Chanhassen experience was shared by Hollywood with audiences around the world as Adams enchanted with her enchanting voice in Walt Disney Studios energetic send-up of their beloved princess focused animated fairy tales in the delightful Enchanted. While that wonderfully whimsical picture along with the underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day are vastly superior to this film in illustrating just what exactly Adams learned in her theatrical training with pitch and breath control, killer line delivery, and a masterful presence, this newly released 2006 sleeper nonetheless captures Adams in that same vintage standard crooning mode that kept theatre-goers and the rest of the company and crew continually dazzled back in the '90s.

In a way, Moonlight Serenade's set-up feels like a fairy tale throwback-- if not to Disney animation-- then to the traditional MGM musicals or RKO plots of the 1930s and 1940s wherein a beautiful but undiscovered coat check girl routinely sings her heart out in dives waiting for her big break to get out of the coat checking and into the customer charming business.

And true to form, the beautiful girl manages to capture the attentions of the film's designated yet incredibly flawed take on Prince Charming as financial planner Nate Holden (Alec Newman) bets on business failures all day to earn his clients large paydays all the while harboring a secret devotion to the piano bond he shared with his deceased mother.

In a reverse musical twist on Romeo and Juliet (as opposed to the real one, West Side Story), Nate finds himself unexpectedly harmonizing with Adams' Chloe to “When I Fall in Love,” when she hears the music and his voice pour from his open window to the street on her way to the club she plays with her unreliable boyfriend.

Switching from the Shakespeare homage back to Cinderella, instead of leaving a glass slipper behind, a jewel from Chloe's bracelet falls to the pavement outside Nate's apartment. And after a “you're annoying/you're attractive” style movie misunderstanding meet-cute, the two eventually end up rehearing together nightly to prepare her for the audition and opportunity to leave the coat check stand for the spotlight and microphone of the exact same jazz/blues club wherein she works.

Predictably, the professional arrangement ventures into the realm of a personal one which is inevitable when you're passionately sublimating a growing attraction along with their pent up frustration whether it's via Nate's dissatisfaction with his job and mother issues or Chloe's trouble with her addicted lover into some of the most romantic ballads ever composed.

While we've seen it all before in classic musicals of yesteryear or in the gorgeous film Once that blurred reality, musical drama, and the tangible chemistry of its leads into an infectious cinematic portrait of a couple on the verge of coupling, Moonlight Serenade is worth the time merely for Adams who is always radiant.

Unfortunately, the predictability of the classically structured screenplay feels like it is singing a bit faster than the notes on the page as we're never quite sure we understand that much about Nate to buy his depressive funk and tales of musical mother woe that are never fully explained nor able to adapt to the Hollywood sanitized depiction of sobriety that mixes oddly with the romantic backdrop.

Yet while the music makes the film literally sing off the screen, the chemistry between the leads is forced to the point that even during a duet, the combination of Newman and Adams sounds out-of-sync as he audibly races her to the finish and overpowers her side of the song. In fact this repeatedly tendency and the obviously over-produced tracks laid on top of the film in post-production (i.e.-- we hear drums play when none are in the scene) made me wonder if their parts were recorded at entirely different times.

It's extraordinarily important in a musical for the vocals to be an extension of their relationship or to say the things they can't even if the sound is less important than the words of the standards by Porter or Gershwin yet these two aren't anywhere near pitch perfect harmony which makes the idea that they should be together as a couple seem far more dubious from an audience perspective.

However, while their chords don't balance and there are no standout numbers especially when the leads are singing side-by-side, one old mainstay of classic musicals returns via a great supporting performance by actress Harriet Sansom Harris. The Desperate Housewives cast member gets the film's strongest number in a rendition of "Lover Man" as she packs her stuff up at work in a dull, yuppie male driven industry of finance and really makes that old jazz classic come alive, thereby surprisingly giving the actress her own Amy Adams moment of the type of stage brilliance that I'd seen in my youth.

Having been made three years before its release on DVD, no doubt the title has arrived on disc because of her phenomenal success more than the movie's quality since it will obviously appeal to Adams' increasing fanbase. However, it's safe to say that you'll wish that one of the many great leading men with whom she's harmonized in her career would've been worked into this awkward arrangement to have prevented this particular Serenade from wasting its Moonlight.

Amy Adams

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com

Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard practice, I received a non-retail, professional screener copy of the film for review.