A Walk on the Moon - B+
Viewed April 3, 1999 at Union Square

There's nothing new about A Walk on the Moon : the story is a conventional drama about a woman's (Diane Lane) midlife crisis during the summer of 1969[1]. It's not a particularly bold feminist statement; after all, her choice comes down to whether she stays with her square husband (Liev Schreiber) or run off with the hippie (Viggo Mortensen[2]) peddler who sells blouses in the working-class Jewish Catskill summer resorts. I also find its "adultery making a marriage better" message more than a little dubious. However, even conventional material is worth seeing when the characters and the material are treated with the respect shown in Pamela Gray's screenplay and Tony Goldwyn's direction.

While the screenwriting is perhaps a bit too pat[3], Gray draws her character with flesh-and-blood human beings with both their good and bad points, and both Diane Lane and Liev Schreiber respond with quite possibly their best work here. I've liked Schreiber since I saw him in Walking and Talking[4] and here he turns in superb work in what I think is his first lead role. His TV repairman Marty Kantrowitz is a decent guy, but he's still human; when he confronts Lane about her affair (in arguably the best acted scene of the year so far), his anger is palpable. And in what may be the most quintessentially Schreiberian moment of his career, he slowly and geekily begins to groove to Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues". Diane Lane (who's in the name sounds familiar, but I can't remember what else they've done portion of my memory) is just as good as Pearl, convincing as both concerned mother and a sexually frustrated woman.

Like most good period films, A Walk on the Moon captures the particular flavor of its time, place, and ethnicity so vividly that even someone like myself, who's as Gentile as they come, realizes the authenticity of the period details in a bone-deep way. These details feel very much like childhood memories; if neither Gray or Goldwyn went to the Catskills in the late 60's, I would be very much shocked.

[1]The film's titular reference to the Neil Armstrong lunar amble and a short visit to Woodstock seem more sops to Boomer nostalgia than anything else; the story wouldn't be seem all that different if it dropped these unnecessary cultural signposts.

[2]Who seems fated to play "the other man" for the foreseeable future.

[3]Frex, there's a subplot involving her teenage daughter (Anna Paquin, whose accent comes and goes but otherwise does good work) and the local boy working at the resort that mirrors her own parents' courtship. It's all just a bit too neat.

[4]I don't remember much about Nicole Hofcenter's enjoyable but slight twentysomething talkathon except for one scene (and that Kevin Corrigan's "Ugly Guy" wore a My Bloody Valentine T-shirt[5]). Anne Heche's character is coming into a summer cottage and is ranting about some incident on the way up to the place. Schreiber is acting all male he-man protector type .. until he spies a cookie jar, at which he immediately breaks off the conversation with a joyful "Oh, cookies!" and heads to satisfy his chocolate chip craving. What really caps this moment is the guilty-but-contented look on Schreiber's face as he heads back to Heche while munching on a cookie. If I had been in charge of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Moments Out of Time" clip-o-rama for '96, this would have been one of my first choices.

[5] Yes, I do tend to note the oddest things.