The Man in the Moon
1991, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Robert Mulligan. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Emily Warfield, Gail Strickland, Sam Waterston, Jason London, Tess Harper.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 22, 1991
Just when I'd given up on seeing teenaged girls portrayed in current movies as anything other than boy-crazy bowheads or distaff rebels without causes or scantily clad babysitters set upon by boogeymen slashers, along comes The Man in the Moon. The movie is a (dare I say?) sweet and moving portrait of two sisters in rural Louisiana in the 1950s. Awkward 14-year-old Dani (Witherspoon) looks up to her smart and beautiful 17-year-old sister Maureen (Warfield) who's on the verge of leaving home for college. They are the closest of friends until one of their new next-door neighbors, a fatherless teen boy who's been forced by circumstances to become the man of his family, stirs emotions in each of the girls that they have never before experienced. OK...I know that description makes it sound hokey. And in many ways it is. There's a predictability and familiarity to the story that's only made worse by the coming attraction trailers that reveal too much of the story and leave nothing to surprise or imagination. But if you focus on that, you'll miss all the charms that make this movie so special and unusual. First and foremost, this cast is a knock-out. As the parents, veterans Sam Waterston, Tess Harper and Gail Strickland lead these novice teen actors in setting standards that these young performers will spend the rest of their careers trying to emulate. It's a lovely piece of ensemble work but, moreover, these kids have a freshness and integrity that adds a feeling of honesty to their roles. Then there's director Mulligan who, so many times in the past, has proven himself an uncanny ace at adolescent and young adult dramas (To Kill a Mockingbird, Summer of '42, Love With the Proper Stranger, Bloodbrothers and Baby, The Rain Must Fall). Mulligan has an impeccable sense of where to place the camera in each scene, positions that disclose without interfering and reveal without unveiling. His sensibility guides this movie with just the right tone and understated emotion.