This might be my favorite kind of film, one where you meet people you grow to know and care about, not because of cheap tricks but because the director has the good sense of letting his characters live on screen. “Moonlight Mile” is the story of a young man who sticks around with his parents-in-law after his fiancée is murdered, but it’s not a grim film, it’s full of light and humor. In fact, it’s not even about death, it’s about life.

Writer-director Brad Silberling could have gone wrong a thousand times with this premise, but he never does. This is not a manipulative tearjerker or a phony, idealistic family movie. Right from the start, the impression the film gives is one of confidence. The hushed down beauty of the images, the bittersweet tone… This is a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing. Silberling forgoes the whole first act/introduction structure and dives right in. We’re in a house with a family, we see that they’re leaving for a funeral… No exposition is forced on us, Silberling trusts us to connect the dots through the film. We don’t have to be told this is set in the 70s, that Joseph was living with the Floss until he married their daughter and that he’s sticking around because he feels this is the right thing to do… Everything comes through naturally, like in real life.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen grief portrayed like this. Here, not everyone is dressed in black, there are no constant crying fits, people don’t stop everything… They laugh, they go to work, they fall in love again… Sure, there’s this big hole inside of them, maybe they feel a bit guilty, but they keep getting up in the morning anyway. They still have their quirks and their bad habits, and their feelings take all sorts of complicated forms… I know I’m being awfully vague, but this isn’t a film where you can pinpoint plot developments and characters arcs. Therefore, at times I was unsure about the direction some things were going but again, Silberling makes you feel like you’re in good hands. It’s in every musical cue (from Bob Dylan to Elton John to the Rolling Stones track that gives the film its title), in the composition of every shot: confidence.

And the acting! Susan Sarandon is almost always good, but here she’s just great. Her character is tough and funny, not the sobbing mother you’d expect. I love how she takes it out on the friends and neighbours who come to spout out cliché sympathies. I also love how Dustin Hoffman and her interact, they’re very convincing as an old married couple who argue a lot but love each other anyway. As for Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s a nearly silent witness for most of the film, but he’s got the big blue eyes for that and this fits his character’s awkwardness at having to live with his late girlfriend’s parents in a strange town. Then there’s Ellen Pompeo who takes the very delicate part of Gyllenhall’s new flame and manages not to make it feel insensitive.

“Moonlight Mile” is like In the Bedroom as Cameron Crowe might have directed it. I don’t know if that sounds like a good deal to you, but it is. Don’t miss it.