A WALK ON THE MOON
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
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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