A Walk on the Moon

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Writer: Pamela Gray
Miramax Films; R
Release: 3/99
Cast: Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber, Viggo Mortenson, Anna Paquin and Tovah Feldshuh

In the eighties, Diane Lane achieved minor celebrity status smiling from the pages of Seventeen and smoldering as a bad girl in the cinematic adaptations of the S. E. Hinton novels The Outsiders and Rumblefish. More than a decade later, she makes a confident return to the screen, as the anchor in actor Tony Goldwyn's auspicious directorial debut, A Walk on the Moon.

Lane plays Pearl Kantrowitz, a comely young housewife who's spending the oh-so-seminal summer of '69 shvitzing in the Catskills with her straight-arrow husband (Liev Schreiber), her menschy mother-in-law (Tovah Feldshuh), and precocious kids (Anna Paquin and Bobby Boriello). Married since 17 and enslaved to domestic, social, and sexual routine, 31-year-old Pearl is beginning to realize her life is as flat as a mahjong tile. That changes, however, when a hippie blouse salesman (Viggo Mortenson) rolls into the campground peddling not only his wares but a chance for the curious Pearl to indulge in some peace, love, and happiness.

Indeed, there hasn't been such a steamy unbuckling of the borscht belt since Dirty Dancing. Yet the transformation of Lane's Pearl is utterly believable and quietly sensual; she tentatively trades her floral shifts for one of the Blouse Man's snug purple tie-dyes and flirts shyly before eventually caving in to her repressed desires. As her lover, Mortenson is all sun-cracked virility and feral magnetism, and their love scenes are tender yet passionate, if not a little arty. However, it becomes increasingly difficult to see Mortenson as the epitome of forbidden sexuality when he's repeatedly referred to as “The Blouse Man”; take, for instance, a wide-eyed Tovah Feldshuh's inadvertent howler of a line, “Are you shtupping The Blouse Man?”

Overall, though, the film is beautifully acted. Schreiber, as the '50s throwback in brushcut and muscle T-shirts, limns a dignified, layered performance as Pearl's cuckolded husband, a self-described square who's nursing a few lost dreams of his own. Likewise, Australian ingenue Paquin, as American as can be here, emerges a spunky counterpart to Lane as the ripe-for-the-plucking teen who's more than willing to rush headlong into love.

Yet with a self-conscious soundtrack packed with such baby-boomer favs as Jefferson Airplane, Richie Havens, and Jerry Garcia, the film tends to oversteep the nostalgia; moreover, it unrealistically seals Pearl and clan away from any political turmoil of the times. Equally implausible is the saga's climax, which hinges upon Anna picking out her bare-breasted mom through a pair of binoculars among the stringy-haired throngs of Woodstock.

Still, Lane leads the cast through an incisive, bittersweet look at the trajectory of an affair. Above all, it is her breakthrough performance - subdued, complex, and impassioned - that launches this Walk on the Moon.

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