Worlds collide in `A Walk on the Moon'

Movie review

April 09, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Is any actress mellowing in a more interesting way than Diane Lane?

She started out as another pretty face in movies like "Rumble Fish" and "The Outsiders," and she went on to appear in marginal films, her sultry beauty always a pleasant surprise. But in "A Walk on the Moon," Lane takes full hold of the screen, her weary, still-gorgeous face and smoky voice galvanizing everything around her.

Seeing Lane in this wonderfully realized role is reason enough to see "A Walk on the Moon," but, gratefully, it isn't the only one. This intimate movie makes an unexpected impact, in part because of Lane and her fellow actors but also because Tony Goldwyn makes his directorial debut with uncommon assurance and restraint.

Lane plays Pearl Kantrowitz, who at 30 has two kids, a nice husband named Daniel (Liev Schreiber) and a settled life. Every summer, the Kantrowitz brood (with Mama Kantrowitz, played by Tovah Feldsuh, in tow) leave Brooklyn for a bungalow camp in the Catskills.

But this summer is like no other summer: "A Walk on the Moon" takes place in 1969, when the Apollo mission and Woodstock would rock the world forever. And Pearl is taken much closer to the changes swirling around her when she embarks on an affair with Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen), an itinerant merchant known at the camp as the Blouse Man.

Starting with a timid flouting of camp style by wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt, Pearl eventually discovers the joys of Joni Mitchell, outdoor sex and other taboos with the Blouse Man, whose fine-cut good looks bear just a trace of seediness. She also comes to a crucial turning point: Should she stay with her family or join the generation that until now was turning on and tuning in without her?

"A Walk on the Moon" is a fascinating portrait of the forgotten denizens of the 1960s, those young adults who had already settled down by the time the decade began to explode but who nonetheless felt the tug of the times.

Goldwyn proves to be a skillful scenarist, evoking both the dowdy coziness of the camp and Walker's more hippie-dippie milieu (a scene where the two worlds collide makes for observant comedy). And Goldwyn choreographs the Woodstock sequences with superb verisimilitude; the most effective moment in the movie is when Pearl's adolescent daughter (Anna Paquin) spies her mom half-naked, grooving and, we are given to believe, doing a little acid.

Pearl's adventures inevitably make the Kantrowitz household unravel, but Goldwyn's steady hand never lets the story devolve into melodrama. The actors, too, are paragons of restraint, especially Schreiber, whose portrayal of Daniel is a nuanced journey from staid self-satisfaction to ferocious rage.

In fact, "A Walk on the Moon" is a lot like Daniel: Beneath this sweet, unassuming movie lies an emotional core of surprising intensity.

`A Walk on the Moon'

Starring Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber, Viggo Mortensen

Directed by Tony Goldwyn

Released by Miramax Films

Rated R (sexuality, language and some drug use)

Running time: 107 minutes

Sun score: * * *

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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