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'A Walk' Toward a Dead End

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 1999

  Movie Critic

A Walk on the Moon
Tony Goldwyn makes his directorial debut with "A Walk on the Moon." (Miramax)

Tony Goldwyn
Diane Lane;
Viggo Mortensen;
Liev Schreiber;
Anna Paquin;
Tovah Feldshuh
Running Time:
1 hour, 46 minutes
Contains sexual scenes, nudity and obscenity
"A Walk on the Moon," which Dustin Hoffman produced and actor Tony Goldwyn directed, has no power plot propelling it forward – no green men with funny antennae or government troops in black helicopters.

It's just a simple, actorly drama about big, gaping emotional needs and the consequences a woman can face – particularly during the 1960s – for simply owning up to them.

Unfortunately, the writing in this movie keeps making sexual liberation occur simultaneously with Great Moments in the 1960s. At times, these people seem to be stuck in front of the decade's highlights reel.

The movie scores best with Diane Lane, who plays Pearl Kantrowitz, a sexual late bloomer, whose life changes giddily during a summer trip to the Catskills in 1969. When she responds to the bells of love, communication and passion ringing outside her marriage, she must endure the outrage of her husband Marty (Liev Schreiber), the sanctimoniousness of her mother-in-law (Tovah Feldshuh) and the complete shock of her daughter Alison (Anna Paquin), who has just evolved into womanhood and romance herself.

Pearl has spent her life being supportive to her children and her husband. Marty, a television repairman, has built his emotional life around Pearl.

But when her husband essentially leaves her alone with the kids at Dr. Fogler's Bungalows, a summer resort in upstate New York, Pearl is unwittingly set up for new discoveries and emotional growth.

Love is very much in the air. Her daughter starts up a summer romance with a local boy. Pearl's vacation consists of card games with other mothers, conversations with her meddlesome, fortune-telling mother-in-law, and sporadic, overnight visits from Marty, who can't get much vacation time from his job.

When she meets Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen), a traveling salesman and free spirit who sells women's clothes from his truck, everything changes. Hypnotized by Walker's easy presence around women, as he flatters them into buying anything, she buys a tie-dyed T-shirt and joins the free-lovin' '60s.

Aye, there's the rub. Although the affair between Pearl and Walker heats up wonderfully, thanks to Lane's very passionate, vulnerable performance, the movie gets a little too perfect and symbolically signposted for its own good.

The Apollo 11 mission is heading to the moon. The Vietnam War is raging in the distant background. There's some kind of huge rock concert going on at a place called Woodstock. Yeah, man, the '60s are really happening. Every single watershed event – it seems – will become the backdrop to Pearl's sexual and moral awakening. And Walker is a walking, talking, amorous symbol of flower-power freedom.

Pearl's dalliance with the times creates a significant opportunity – in dramatic terms – for her husband to demonstrate his qualities, many of them in opposition to the emerging zeitgeist. It's a chance to stand up and be counted. But Schreiber shows a little too much Marlon Brando homework in his performance. He brings an angry martyr's edge to the movie, as the cheated husband, but he doesn't draw the empathy I think he was shooting for.

Which makes Pearl's overriding question – go for the devoted stiff or the impossibly studly flower-power man? – increasingly irrelevant. One's overbearing and almost narcissistic in his devotion, the other's probably a woman-stalker who sells clothes from his truck

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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