Sarandon and Hoffman are almost too big for the roles here. No matter how good they are, unknown actors of quality would have carried more weight; they look like Hollywood actors slumming it in an indie film that gives them some great scenes to emote their way through.
The best part of the movie to me is the mid-70s ambience and scrupulously selected soundtrack -- the Florsheim Shoes, the shirts, the cars, etc. And it's not prettied up or exaggerated -- the town, the stores, etc all have that worn, grungy look that I see in photos from the period of my hometown. So as a child of the seventies I had a little nostalgia storm about this one.
Holly Hunter has basically a bit part, but she reminds me in this movie of why I like her a lot. She steals the scenes she's in for no reason I can really discern -- the lines she has to read aren't the stuff of great drama.
The interesting thing (if I haven't put you to sleep already) about the movie is the idea of a naturalistic movie; the naturalism is worn on the sleeve. It's shot in a real town, as much of the dialog is recorded on set, not looped. The interior shots are in a real house. You can tell from the camera angles that just outside the frame are all the production people scrunched together, holding their breath so that the dialog recording is clean enough to use with the natural room ambience. At the same time the story line has it's collection of earnest contrivances. It has that high seriousness that seems to indicate the screenwriter/director views this as a labor of love, but in the end boy meets girl boy, gets girl, Boy Helps Grieving Parents Heal.
If you look at the director Brad Silberling's career, it is kind of obvious how this fits in -- he got into directing by working in TV, on shows like "NYPD Blue" before going to the big screen directing Christina Ricci in "Caspar." He had a certifiable hit with "City of Angels", a movie with which "Moonlight Mile" shares it's deliberate pace and the long closeups of the lead actor's Soulful Eyes. "Moonlight Mile" is the script he wrote in college and has been polishing ever since, waiting until he gets enough clout with the money people that they'll humor him by letting him direct the money losing pet project of his choice. He gets a few Big Stars who sign on for a fraction their usual fee because it's a Quality Script.
Now he's done a lot very right on this movie, but it's basically high-brow middle-brow stuff. Truly great movies don't try this hard. They don't have to, or they're really capital-A Art, which means that the way they create their effects are successfully hidden. A truly great movie can make you forget you're watching a movie, and make your real life when you return to it seem changed.