Box of Moonlight
1997, R, 107 min. Directed by Tom Dicillo. Starring John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener, Lisa Blount, Annie Corely.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 19, 1997
Al Fountain (Turturro) is a humorless, uptight prig. He's a man who's not happy being who he is but he's also incapable of changing his behavior, and this, too, makes him unhappy. In his relationship with his wife and son he's an aloof and petty taskmaster, a pattern of behavior that also extends into his work relationships. Yet in Turturro's hands, Al also becomes a sympathetic figure. Recently, things in Al's life have been turning a little strange: He's discovered his first gray hair, water is running upward into the tap, and children pedal their bicycles backwards. When Al's out-of-town job assignment is temporarily shut down, instead of going back home to his family Al impulsively rents a car and goes off in search of a lake in the area that he remembers having visited as a child (and also presumably remembers once having experienced what it was like to have fun). It's during this journey that he meets up with the Kid (Rockwell) -- a carefree, modern-day, wood sprite manboy in a coonskin cap, who lives on the land in a gutted-out trailer among a phantasmagoria of detritus, pilfered lawn ornaments and boxes of moonlight. The Kid lures Al into a series of silly, nonsensical escapades and the two of them also entertain a pair of sisters (Keener and Blount) under the starry sky. There's not much more “story” to DiCillo's movie than this simple trajectory of a middle-aged man learning from this free spirit the fine art and practice of letting go. For anyone familiar with DiCillo's previous movies -- Brad Pitt's breakthrough film Johnny Suede and the low-budget filmmaking comedy Living in Oblivion -- the offbeat humor and magic realism of Box of Moonlight will seem entirely familiar, as will the occasionally hackneyed metaphors and symbols. The whimsical nature of the material seems especially exaggerated in this work, however, and it's a quality that is bound to charm some audience members and irritate others. But what nudges Box of Moonlight into the category of something very special are the full-hearted performances by all the central characters. Al Fountain is one of Turturro's finest creations, a character who's all sharp edges and marshmallow intestines. Rockwell makes a memorable impression as the Kid, inhabiting the spirit of a natural-born rule-breaker and rough-hewn muse as though he had invented the model himself. Keener (Living in Oblivion, Walking and Talking) is one of our greatest underused actors and her presence in any movie, no matter the role, is always a welcome sight. Box of Moonlight may ultimately cause reactions similar to those elicited by the proverbial glass of water: The container is either half empty or half full; it's all in the eyes of the beholder. In this case, it may help to be wearing bifocals.