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‘The Man in the Moon’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 04, 1991

"The Man in the Moon" is an intimate, sentimental coming-of-age drama, a sweet little puppy love movie crushed by the enormity of its tragic twists. The 14-year-old heroine, pluckily played by newcomer Reese Witherspoon, is an all-American tomboy burdened out of the blue with woes more germane to Juliet Capulet. Set in a Louisiana backwater, this is not the stuff of wherefore art thou, but whar'd he go.

He, in this case, is the wholesome 17-year-old Court (Jason London), who returns with his mother and younger brothers to farm the family's land in sleepy Robeline. Forced into the responsibilities of adulthood by his father's death, Court finds comfort in a flirtation with the coltish Dani Trant (Witherspoon). Dani, though, is seriously in love for the very first time. Alas, Court meets Dani's older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) and the two are meant for each other.

Maureen is briefly torn between her love for Court and her loyalty to her little sister, but she never has to decide between them as fate takes the dilemma out of her hands. Court up and dies -- horribly. Oh, well, by the time they come upon their dilemma, the movie's more than half over and the pace has begun to approximate soil erosion.

The adult cast, which includes Tess Harper and Sam Waterston as Ma and Pa Trant, is soberly directed through prodigious wads of exposition by Robert Mulligan, who is nevertheless in rapport with the younger players. As the director of the memorable films "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Summer of '42," Mulligan managed to marry the disparate dramatic elements, to find the balance between the bleak and the bright that eluded him here. Perhaps "The Man in the Moon" marks the eclipse of a glorious career.

"The Man in the Moon" is rated PG-13 for sensuality.

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