In ‘The Moment,’ Jennifer Jason Leigh Plays a Shell-Shocked War Photographer

The mind's demented eye

Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Moment.
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Moment.

The Moment is another in a long string of thrill-free psychological “thrillers” that fail from start to finish. This time, Jennifer Jason Leigh displays new lows in her already shaky career, through no fault of her own. The script and direction, both by women who lack supervision and experience, are so lame that the whole enterprise smacks of the star’s reputation for helping out friends in need. What kind of friends would make a movie with Meat Loaf as a police inspector?

The Moment ★
(1/4 stars)

Written by: Gloria Norris and Jane Weinstock
Directed by:
Jane Weinstock
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Martin Henderson and Alia Shawkat
Running time: 90 min.

Game sport that she is, Ms. Leigh plays a war photographer named Lee who arrives at her ex-boyfriend’s house to collect some cameras she left behind and finds him missing. His name is John. She met him in rehab after she was injured in a suicide bombing in Somalia. Cut to an art exhibit of the haunted, desolate faces of women in the war zone she caught on film during that near-fatal assignment behind enemy lines. Her mixed feelings of loss, confusion and resignation are reflected in their haunted eyes. But while the guests, including an ex-husband and an estranged daughter named Jessie, gaze at the disturbing photos on the walls, Lee strips down, walks through the art gallery stark naked and lapses into comatose silence. It’s one gallery opening they won’t soon forget.

The meltdown lands her in a psychiatric hospital where she meets another man named Peter, who looks exactly like the missing John. While her doctor (the reliable Marianne Jean-Baptiste) struggles to unlock the mysteries in her subconscious that relate to her affair with the missing John (all shown with repeated flashbacks), the movie annoyingly hopscotches back and forth between her past with him (she’s convinced she murdered him with an overdose of morphine in his Champagne) and her new romance with Peter, a defense attorney severely traumatized after spending five years in prison for a crime he did not commit. As she picks up the pieces and tries to move on with a life locked on the pause button, she discovers that her mixed up daughter, Jessie (a weak, miscast and instantly forgettable Alia Shawkat), has slept with both John and Peter, plunging Mom deeper into a quagmire of self-doubt.  

No wonder she’s missing a wheel. If she thinks she’s confused, just imagine how the audience feels, especially since John and Peter are both played by the same actor, a handsome fellow named Martin Henderson who deserves better material. When he’s John, his hair is scruffy, he doesn’t shave, and he has a bluebird tattooed on his arm. When he’s Peter, he’s a squeaky-clean preppy conservative, and the bluebird is merely a birthmark. You can’t tell the two men apart. Eventually, you can’t separate their stories, either. 

Apparently, there is no solution to this dilemma, and director Jane Weinstock, who co-authored the screenplay with producer Gloria Norris, doesn’t bother to provide any.  Whatever happened to John? Does Peter really exist? Are John and Peter the same person? Is the entire movie a figment of Lee’s imagination? Is the presence of Meat Loaf as a cop in a dull business suit a figment of mine? We’ll never know. The movie has no ending. It just fades to black. It’s a colossal waste of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s considerable talent and a ticket buyer’s valuable time and money. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In ‘The Moment,’ Jennifer Jason Leigh Plays a Shell-Shocked War Photographer