WALK ON THE MOON, AR
The summer of 1969 finds astronauts on the moon for the first time and the Kantrowitz family once again ensconced in a holiday camping community in the Catskills. At first, they seem like any other happily squabbling clan, but there are tensions afoot. Pearl (Diane Lane) yearns for something more than the domesticated existence she's known ever since a teenaged pregnancy stymied her life's dreams. Husband Marty (Liev Schreiber) is an amiable, jokey sort, who unfortunately doesn't seem to be aware of her discontentment and is often away, repairing television sets. Her mother-in-law Lilian (Tovah Feldshuh) is loving but meddling, convinced of her psychic gift she expresses through the tarot and tea leaves. Daughter Alison (Anna Paquin) rails against her family's squareness and is ripely ready for her first love. When Pearl begins a steamy affair with Walker (Viggo Mortensen), a blouse peddler with whom she runs off to a nearby rock concert called Woodstock, everything is turned upside-down.
Actor Tony Goldwyn makes a striking directorial debut with the deeply nostalgic, truly heartwarming A Walk on the Moon. Pamela Gray's script is rich in details that evoke the period and rings emotionally true in the family confrontation scenes. The tone is humorously set by Julie Kavner's voice on the camp's maddeningly omniscient p.a. system ('The knish man is on the premises...'). The insular, traditional world of the Catskills (mah-jongg, Shirley Bassey at the Concord) is contrasted with the wildly liberated goings-on of those hippies down the road. Recreating Woodstock was obviously no small feat, but Goldwyn cleverly brings it off, catching the pulse-quickening, musk- and grass-scented euphoric wonder of a moment in time that was all about self-invention to the rhythms of some indelible music. Richie Havens' 'Freedom' lends deliriously potent flavor, as do songs by Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead and Judy Collins that will have one generation smiling with reminiscences of old vinyl friends, and another scrambling to buy the CD soundtrack. (There may be a few too many '90s buzz-cuts glimpsed in the crowd, but that's certainly better than a mass of bad wigs.)
Dustin Hoffman produced, and his contribution feels very hands-on, especially in the beautifully calibrated performances. Indeed, you can close your eyes and positively hear the actor's distinctive inflections in Schreiber's touching portrait of a regular guy trying to come to terms with these strange new feelings in the air. It could easily have been a thankless assignment, but Schreiber's attractiveness and laid-back naturalness work wonders with it. Lane is a revelation here, utterly convincing as a young Brooklyn matriarch and nearly unrecognizable at first in a new, more full-bodied incarnation, clad in frumpy prints and lacquered hair. She invests Pearl with a banked emotionalism and querulous yearning which aptly set the scene for her spiritual and physical transformation. At Woodstock, her hair tumbles free, thick and curly, and she is, simply, radiant, as a result of some very hot scenes under a waterfall with 'the Blouse Man' and, no doubt, drugs. Mortensen has the kind of dashing romantic appeal that Peter Weller had in a similar role in Shoot the Moon. He's an irresistible huckster, charming the camp doyennes with his wares, and shows off his impressive physique in the aforementioned watery moment. Paquin is a born actress; her Alison is a deeply empathic performance. Feldshuh, finally given a real part to sink her teeth into, lends powerhouse strength and Yiddish-riddled humor as her 'Bubie.'