A WALK ON THE MOON **1/2
It's the first directorial effort by actor Tony Goldwyn, the grandson of the famous Sam Goldwyn who created MGM. It is also the first filmed script by Pamela Gray. She wrote it as her thesis for the UCLA Film Department, and the scenario attracted much attention.
The movie (shot in Canada's Laurentians standing in for the Catskills ) centers on Pearl Kantrowitz (Lane), a young and comely mother of two, Alison (Paquin) 14, and much younger Daniel. Her husband Marty (Schreiber) is a Brooklyn TV-repairman. The time is the summer of 1969. Marty drives his family, including his mother Lilian (Feldshuh) to the low-end Jewish resort of Dr.Fogler's bungalows. Marty, like many other, unretired men, has to go back to work and gets to the bungalows only on weekends.
Pearl is a pretty woman with a beautiful figure -- often displayed. She is vaguely dissatisfied with her life. Married to Marty when she was a teenager (and pregnant with Alison), she has known no other men (carnally, that is) and is also aware of the hippie culture of the times, and the "freedom" that goes with it.
While, at the resort, rather too neatly Alison gets her first period and her first boyfriend, Pearl meets Walker (Mortensen), aka The Blouse Man. He is a peddler of women's garments, an itinerant dweller of his bus shop-plus-home. Pearl has an affair with him. Marty finds out. But there's a probably (and certainly contrived) happy ending.
AWOTM does a good job in its observation of people, that is, its nucleus of the five Kantowitzs plus Walker. The other characters are strictly an uncluttering background, which is good -- even though contemporary Jewish-American filmmakers (Gentiles would not dare !) including this picture's, tend to overdo ethnic accents, manners and mannerisms. They add to them touches of irony (granted this is often warm) that can border on the tiresome.
However, the Kantowicz family is free of ethnic touches, except for old pro Tovah Feldshuh who portraysa most original and sweet mother-in-law. All the people in the film are real, even veristic, which amounts to their being rather dull, as most terra-firmans are. But the main problem is not there. It is in the construction.
First come the symbols, metaphors, parallels and improbabilities, starting with the movie's title. The summer of 69 was the summer of the first man to walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong on 20 July). While the gathered bungalow-dwellers watch on TV the liberation of earthlings, and rejoice, Pearl, inside Walker's bus, goes into sexual orbit and finds her own sexual liberation. Too pat.
The coincidental mother-and-daughter newfound sexuality? Too pat. Later, Walker and Pearl cavort and make love under a waterfall, but the camp's denizens do not notice. Improbable. The Woodstock Rock Festival (15-17 August), held not at Woodstock but in Bethel , N.Y., is too conveniently close to Dr. Fogler's Bungalows. Alison and new boyfriend Ross scoot over to the festival where she spots her Ma writhing with abandon with her lover. Too much. When Pearl takes to the road, in the rain, the itinerant Walker just happens to be driving by. Young Daniel gets strung by bees --at a providential time that triggers his dad's return to the resort. Too pat. And so on.
I 'll make an educated guess here. As a film student, script-writer Pamela Gray must have most certainly seen several classic movies. Her scenario is under the sign of at least three masterpieces of the 30s and 40s: The Rules of the Game (France), Casablanca (US), Brief Encounter (UK).
In The Rules of the Game, Renoir went to some careful preparations before the wife of the host, testing a small monocular, spies her husband embracing his (now-ex) mistress. In AWOTM, Alison, using unexplained binoculars, spots Pearl and Walker within a crowd of hundreds of thousands!
In Casablanca, Rick parting with Ilsa utters the famous "it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." He is right, but such is the power of that movie that, paradoxically, those problems do affect the audience. Which is not the case in AWOTM, where, as in many more movies, private or domestic problems affect the characters but not the public. Such movies do not go beyond their own borders.
Brief Encounter is a masterpiece among films in general and love stories in particular. The short-lived affair, with no sex, between married Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard is so achingly beautiful that it can haunt you for years. What is important for the characters is certainly not trite for us.
This said, the principals' performances are very good. For Diane Lane,
Liev Schreiber and to an extent, Anna Paquin, their roles are difficult
yet deliver the goods with great conviction. Lane's debut was as a ravishing
teen-ager in A Little Romance (1979). She made a lovely Paulette Goddard
in Chaplin (1992), but her career has had few memorable roles. Her Pearl
feels like a comeback.