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IN SHORT: The "Death of the 1950s" as a slow moving, well acted period piece. [Rated [R]]
Ask any sociologist and they'll tell you that it wasn't rock 'n' roll that brought on the complete collapse of American moral values in the 1960s, it was the distribution of the birth control pill. The liberation of a femme's sexual impulses without the fear of pregnancy, coupled with the rebellious rock 'n' roll spirit, brought about free love and hippiedom and all the other stuff that made every woman who married in the late 1950s angry as hell. As the Sixties progressed, those wives and mothers woke up to discover that maybe they wanted more from life. That's when things started to fall apart for the rest of us.
Set in Bethel, New York, in the summer of 1969, A Walk on the Moon plays out pretty much like summers used to play out when Cranky was a little boy. Slow small story, big character development. It's a story wrapped around what many New York Jewish families would do every August, which was head up to the Catskills and rent a bungalow. Peddlers would come through selling tchotchkes and ice cream and other stuff. Dad would head back to the city for the work week. Us kids would have organized activities. Mom would keep busy doing mom stuff, and playing Mahjong and Grandma would ride herd on us all.
If this summer lifestyle is completely alien to you, well, you get to see the world of summer Jewish-ness fairly and accurately represented. Within that world were those that kept Kosher and those that didn't. Friendships between teenage kidlets overcame those boundaries. That's the story of 14 year old bacon chomper Alison Kantrowitz (Anna Paquin) and the very orthodox Rhoda Leiberman (Star Jasper). Unlike Dirty Dancing a bunch of years ago the kidlet story is a subplot. A Walk on the Moon focuses on Alison's mom and dad, Pearl (Diane Lane) and Marty (Liev Schreiber), trapped in the unspoken 50s nightmare -- one night of fooling around equals baby and family responsibilities. Marty loses out on his hopes and dreams and takes a job as a TV repairman, 'cuz he does the right thing and supports his surprise family. Pearl, who had never had any other relationship in her life, follows the path of women before her and keeps making babies.
Pearl's unhappiness manifests itself when a new "blouse man" (Viggo Mortensen) comes to call. Handsome and flirtatious, this Walker Jerome is forbidden fruit not only because Pearl is married, but because he's not a member of the tribe. Cranky's not sure if writer Pamela Gray intentionally reversed a standard pair of names -- it's an observation repeated by most of the adult characters -- but as a wordplay akin to Hebrew being read right to left, it's very funny. Not only is the affair reckless, it leads to a very interesting situation in which daughter catches mom in the act in public, at a local rock 'n' roll concert.
It's a nice cultural benchmark to hang the story on and while the recreation of the first day is lovely, it doesn't get in the way of the emotional storm that comes when Marty finds out that his wife has been cheating.
Cranky hates this part of the review, especially when the important parts of a film work. The acting and story are fine, but this is a story whose slow pace kills it. If you frequent the indie/arthouse theater in your local town, you'll like A Walk on the Moon. If not...
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to A Walk on the Moon, he would have paid...
Cranky sat in a theater filled with 60 something retirees who were probably lugged their kidlets to summer bungalows back in 1969. This is a character study of a flick, taking its time to let us get a feel for the characters. To see them deal with the small problems that confront them. If you like "serious" flicks, your time will be well spent. Otherwise, wait to rent.
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