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A WALK ON THE MOON

by: Scott Renshaw

A WALK ON THE MOON is a coming-of-age film, which may lead you to expect the fetishizing of adolescent sexual experimentation; it's set during 1969's Summer of Love -- and at Woodstock, no less -- which may lead you to expect even more "Wonder Years"-esque navel-gazing than usual. There are some pleasant surprises in A WALK ON THE MOON, actor Tony Goldwyn's directing debut, but the most pleasant may be that it's mature. Taking a unique perspective on that singularly revolutionizing American summer, it's a simple, occasionally corny story with enough wisdom to realize that comings-of-age don't happen exclusively to teenagers.

In this case, it happens to Pearl Kantrowitz (Diane Lane), a married Jewish mother of two living in New York City. The Summer of '69 finds the Kantrowitzes taking the same vacation to the same Catskills resort where they vacation every summer, with Pearl's husband Marty (Liev Schreiber), a television repairman, commuting from the city on weekends. This summer seems certain to be something different, however. Pearl's daughter Alison (Anna Paquin) is about to "become a woman," and the resort is abuzz with the anticipation of the impending moon landing. Most significantly, Pearl becomes attracted to the resort's itinerant blouse salesman Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen), and begins to wonder how she got so old so fast.

Pearl's story is a particularly interesting one to set during a time of social upheaval. Obliged to surrender her youth when she got pregnant as a teenager, Pearl suddenly finds herself compelled to flirt with youthful irresponsibility when it's a luxury she can no longer afford. Surprisingly, screenwriter Pamela Gray doesn't celebrate Pearl's affair with Walker as the action of a woman "finding herself," nor does she turn Marty (nicely underplayed by Schreiber) into an easy scapegoat. A WALK ON THE MOON doesn't shy away from the self-absorption of a wife and mother falling into the "if it feels good, do it" ethos of the time, embracing instead the idea of facing one's difficult choices. Though Gray occasionally turns her subtext into overly melodramatic text (Alison: "You had your chance to be the kid!" Pearl: "No, I didn't!"), A WALK ON THE MOON generally lets Diane Lane's solid performance bring out Pearl's conflicts.

Goldwyn also does a nice job of creating his 1960s Catskills milieu as a distinct, amusing time and place. The camp's never-seen public address voice (an unbilled Julie Kavner) makes ubiquitous announcements, including the onset of Alison's menstrual cycle; women play mah jongg at outdoor card tables; the men compare boastful tales of how quickly they managed to make the drive up from the city. The portrayals do occasionally drift into the stereotypical, notably Tovah Feldshuh as Marty's predictably iron-willed, oy-spouting mother, but the characters still maintain a sense of individuality even within their own world. When the throng of counterculture kids descends on this world for the generation-defining concert -- including a quick skinny-dip in the camp's private lake -- it provides a well-realized picture of the new freedom that calls to Pearl.

The only reason A WALK ON THE MOON feels awkward is that it fumbles the sub-plot involving Alison's own adventures. Gray and Goldwyn clearly want Alison's experimentation to parallel that of her mother, but they don't dive into Alison's character with nearly enough care. They take a half-hearted middle ground when one of the two extremes -- focusing entirely on Pearl or making the two stories equally significant -- would have been genuinely effective. Alison's flirtations and rebellion end up feeling token, her relationship with her mother never fully explored. Fortunately, when A WALK ON THE MOON sticks with Pearl's growth -- including getting to know who her husband really is for the first time -- it's an appealing character study. Fro

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