A Walk on the Moon (1999)
Directed by Tony Goldwyn
Cast: Diane Lane, Viggo Mortensen, Anna Paquin, Liev Schreiber, Tovah Feldshuh, Lisa Jakub, Julie Kavner.
1999 106 minutes
Rated: (for profanity, sex, and brief nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 25, 1999.
"A Walk on the Moon," actor Tony Goldwyn's directing debut, is similar in place and time to 1987's far superior "Dirty Dancing." Both are set in the nostalgic '60s, during the summer, in the Catskills, and feature a female protagonist finally able to come into her own. But while "Dirty Dancing" got me involved in the characters and the beautiful setting, "A Walk on the Moon" is a smaller, slighter, and less-involving drama.
Set during the crucial summer of '69 when man first walked on the moon and the infamous Woodstock took place (both of which are conveniently portrayed here), Pearl Kantrowitz (Diane Lane) is an unsatisfied 31-year-old woman who married her high school sweetheart, Marty (Liev Schreiber), when she was still a teenager and accidentally got pregnant. Despite having certain goals and dreams, Pearl and Marty both decided to take responsibility for their actions and be good parents. While on a summer-long vacation in the Catskills, Marty, a television repairman, is only able to come up on the weekends since there is a mad rush for t.v. sets due to the impending moon landing, leaving Pearl; her rebellious 14-year-old daughter, Alison (Anna Paquin), who is just discovering and getting involved in boys; her precocious 5-year-old son; and her children's grandmother (Tovah Feldshuh), to fend for themselves during the week. By chance, Pearl meets Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen), a travelling "blouse man" whom, to her utter surprise, she sees as a light at the end of a dark tunnel, and starts an affair with, therefore putting her marriage and children's trust into jeopardy.
"A Walk on the Moon" is an overall unsatisfying domestic drama that feels like it begins in mid-stream, without any proper introduction to the characters, and it took me the film's first hour to actually get into the story. Even then, with only 45 minutes to go, the characters themselves always seemed to be standing at a far distance from me, and it was difficult to understand the motives of the central character, Pearl. We are supposed to believe that she is taken aback by Walker, but he is never written as a fully developed character, but more of a symbol, and therefore the whole plotting comes off as a mere contrivance in order to give us a story of "self-discovery."
If anything, the performances certainly can't be faulted. Diane Lane, a wonderful actress who began a promising career in the early '80s with such films as "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish," before resorting to low-rent or underused roles, has finally been given her first substantially satisfying in recent years. Lane proves a sympathetic heroine, even when she is making some very numskull decisions that are difficult to understand. In what comes off as one of the few successes in an otherwise largely unrealized screenplay, by Pamela Gray, the character of Marty is portrayed as not simply the "husband," but a real person who is genuinely good, even when considering that he sacrificed his own life for his family, and Liev Schreiber is up to every challenge. Giving the film's most assured and poignant performance is Anna Paquin, already an Academy Award winner (for 1993's "The Piano"), and at 16, she has already become one of the best actresses of her respective generation. A subplot involving Paquin's character of Alison discovering romance for the first time is supposed to come off as a catalyst to Pearl's blossoming affair, but not nearly enough time is devoted to her. Paquin is given the best scenes, however, including a bravura one in which Alison confronts her mother concerning her affair, and another in which she has a loving, truthful conversation with her father. Viggo Mortensen is the one weak link in the central roles, but I suspect this is due to his underwritten role of the "blouse man." There is no room given for Mortensen to create a definite personality, and director Goldwyn unwisely chooses to add a bunch of pointless sex scenes to stand as character development. And the likely winner of best performance by an actress in an unseen role goes to Julie Kavner as the resort's P.A. announcer, who is constantly announcing things over the intercom, including even Alison's first period!
Regardless of the obvious low budget, the film verifiably recreates Woodstock in a breathtaking sequence in which, allegedly, 300 people were transformed into hundreds of thousands via computer digitization. It ends up being an anticlimax, though, and before we are given a chance to see it, the film hurriedly moves on to something else.
"A Walk on the Moon" unmistakably feels like a rough cut of a possibly good movie. There's a fulfilling one lurking around in there somewhere, but the film feels too rushed and, because of this, no emotional momentum is allowed to build up. I liked Pearl, and I liked Alison, and Marty, but I'd like them even more in a better overall film. Not only does the story in "A Walk on the Moon" feel like a plot device, but it is also tiresome and unoriginal. So many similar motion pictures have been made, and more successfully, that this one only pales in comparison. That's too bad, because, even though not alive during the decade, I do have a fondness for the '60s.
©1999 by Dustin Putman