A Walk on the Moon (1999)

A Walk on the Moon (1999)
  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Tony Goldwyn
  • Cast: Diane Lane, Viggo Mortensen, Liev Schreiber, Bobby Boriello, Anna Paquin


USA, summer of 1969. Man is about to walk on the moon, the Vietnam War is breaking out, and there is the great concert in Woodstock. In a holiday camp for Jewish families not far from Woodstock, Alison and her family are on vacation. Pearl, the mother is young and attractive, but defeated by life, having become pregnant on her first loving relationship, forgetting her dreams to devote herself to her children. Marty, the father is absent because he is busily occupied by the television company broadcasting the moon landing. One day a charming salesman arrives at the camp, selling clothes and knick-knacks. He lives an intense life of love and passion, culminating in an escape to Woodstock with Alison, where events have a deep impact.

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  • Summer 1969. A time for free love and for men to walk on the moon. For Pearl Kantrowitz (Diane Lane), it’s another summer at the Catskills with her husband Marty (Liev Schreiber), her two kids Allison (Anna Paquin) and Danny (Bobby Boriello), and her mother-in-law Lilian (Tovah Feldshuh). Sure, she loves her family but she feels her life is passing her by. “You ever feel trapped by your life?” she asks a friend. “Sometimes I try to picture my life if I hadn’t had Allison so young. Sometimes I wish I were a whole different person.”

    She gets her wish when the blouse salesman breezes into the resort town. His name is Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen) and he is so different from the people that she’s used to. He seems free, unaffected, living in the moment, sensitive, passionate, and utterly comfortable with his physicality. With Marty and the other husbands away at work for most of the week, the women are lonely for a little companionship but none needier than Pearl. She enters into a tentative flirtation with this handsome stranger. She’s flattered when he gives her a tie-dye shirt and flummoxed when he leans closer to bite the tag off.

    Pretty soon, she and Walker steal time together, making love by and in the river and absorbing each other’s presence. With him, she can relax and just be herself. There’s a lovely scene where they sit by a cliff overlooking the river. Walker has his arms around her and is whispering something in her ear. Lane reacts in a striking combination of happiness and sadness. There is her family to think of and when Lilian gently confronts her about her infidelity, Pearl decides to break it off. “I understand,” Walker says. But maybe she doesn’t. It isn’t long before she’s resuming their liaisons, which include attending Woodstock. An event her rebellious daughter has also gone to.

    Dustin Hoffman serves as producer along with director Tony Goldwyn and it isn’t difficult to see what attracted him to the material. Like the Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer, A Walk on the Moon focuses on estrangement and rediscovery. It’s not quite as melodramatic as Kramer vs. Kramer — A Walk on the Moon is set forth without pretense and that’s what strengthens the drama. One can almost call it a chamber piece in the way it quarantines its characters with their emotions. There are many wonderful moments when the characters simply stop and attempt to talk with each other, not to each other. Perhaps emotions aren’t quite well-articulated or situations are left unresolved but that’s how people are, that’s how life is.

    There’s a scene that finds Pearl and Allison finally understanding who the other really is. “I’m the teenager. You had your chance,” Allison yells. “Sometimes it’s easier to be different with a different person,” Pearl reasons, explaining her affair. Then Allison tries to convince her to stay and keep the family together. “I thought you hated us,” Pearl says. That doesn’t mean anything, Allison sobs. Scenes like that are small gems.

    The actors really make the most of the material though Paquin often grates on my nerves — at times, I’m not sure if she even knows how to act; she’s given few moments for me to invest any faith in her abilities. Schreiber is wonderful but it is Diane Lane, with her melancholic grace, that propels the film. I won’t forget how, early in the film, she stares at herself in the mirror, basking in her sensuality. Or the sadness that leaks from every pore — even in her most relaxed moments with Walker, she understands the tragedy that awaits around the corner. Lane conveys it all and does it immaculately.

    Director Goldwyn displays a good grasp of the material though I’ve always taken a bit of offense when women are blamed for wanting more out of what they have. “There were things I wanted to do with my life. Somewhere along the line, I disappeared. I stopped being the person you fell in love with,” Pearl confides to Marty. “Who stopped you?” he replies. The implication, of course, is that Pearl stopped herself. But I can’t complain too much, especially when I’ve been completely delighted by A Walk on the Moon.

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