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'Walk on the Moon' has great script, ensemble cast

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"Walk on the Moon"

Directed by: Tony Goldwyn

Starring: Diane Lane, Viggo Mortensen, Liev Schreiber, Anna Paquin

Rated: R

You might expect a movie that was produced by one of Hollywood's biggest stars, Dustin Hoffman, and directed by a guy named Goldwyn, from the family that put the G in M-G-M, would have a decidedly mainstream bent. Not so with actor-turned-director Tony Goldwyn's bittersweet romance "Walk on the Moon."

While the romantic/sexual story is the main focus, the screenplay also delves into the workings of a middle-class family circa the late 1960s. When the film debuted at Sundance, it got a standing ovation from the more than 1,000 people in the audience. I wanted to applaud when I saw it, but was afraid it would scare the only other person in the theater.

Yes, in a summer ruled by big-budget special-effects extravaganzas, little movies such as this one stand a good chance of being overlooked. It's really a shame, especially when a lot of people still like films that tell personal stories and have characters that seem so very real.

The final summer of the turbulent 1960s was chock-full of world-shaking events. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, the hippie generation had its crowning achievement with the three-day Woodstock festival attended by nearly half a million free-spirited souls. The peace-and-love era of hippiedom was short-lived, however, as Charles Manson and his "family" shattered the myth and shocked the world when arrested in November for a series of gruesome summertime slayings. The Manson murders are (thankfully) not touched upon in "Walk on the Moon," but the summer's other two events provide pivotal backdrops for first-time screenwriter Pamela Gray's excellent, touching story.

Gray wrote the screenplay, originally titled "The Blouse Man," as her thesis at UCLA film school, and if this script is any indication, she surely has a bright future ahead.

Pearl Kantrowitz is spending the summer, again, at a decidedly Jewish holiday camp in the Catskills with her mother-in-law, teenage daughter and young son. Her husband Marty joins the brood on weekends but spends his weeks in the city fixing televisions.

Pearl married Marty, the only man she's ever slept with, when she was 17 and pregnant.

She's 31 now and, it being the era of free love, Pearl begins to get a nagging feeling that she may have missed out. She's also worried that daughter Alison 14 and just recently "become a woman" may start having some excitement herself.

The resort is visited by an endless stream of traveling vendors, announced hilariously over the P.A. system by the voice of Julie Kavner. "The knish man is on the premises." "The blouse man is on the premises." The knish man we never see, but the blouse man is another story.

He's a young, good-looking free spirit, and the attraction between him and Pearl is unmistakable. He gives her a sample of a new line of tie-dye tops he's carrying. He figures if the other ladies see how great Pearl looks in it, they'll want one, too. He also gives her his phone number. Pearl, who still loves Marty, is torn but finally breaks down and calls, under the pretense of getting together to watch the moon landing. In the back of the blouse man's bus, which is equipped with a TV, they do a little more than see Armstrong take his small step. It's a giant leap for Pearl.

Pearl's mother-in-law, who reads Tarot cards and tea leaves for all the ladies at the camp, knows something is amiss. "I'm always right!" she moans. "It's a curse." Pearl can't stop herself, even when the elder Mrs. Kantrowitz confronts her with things she may not realize about Marty.

The night of the Woodstock festival, two of the Kantrowitz women, Alison and Pearl, separately sneak off to attend with their respective lovers. When Alison spies her mom, half naked and covered in body paint, a whole new set of problems arises.

The film's conclusion is no surprise, but Goldwyn keeps us wondering for a good while what Pearl may do.

The cast, most notably Diane Lane as Pearl, is a great ensemble. Liev Schreiber seems to have picked up some of Hoffman's nuances and Viggo Mortensen lends perfect credence to his wayward hippie blouse man.

Lane, who started out in 1979 in the completely charming "A Little Romance," is better than ever. She's a beautiful presence on-screen and gives her character the right amount of longing, untested strength and vulnerability.

Those who don't like the film have dismissed it as dipping into Harlequin Romance territory. Those who do like it will simply say, "Go see it."

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)[[In-content Ad]]

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