Period Film: A Walk on the Moon (1999)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Pearl Kantrowitz is a bored housewife. She married young, has a couple of kids (Anna Paquin, Bobby Boriello) and is frustrated by the lack of sympathy her husband Marty (Liev Schreiber) seems to have for the monotony of her daily life.

In the summer of 1969, the family packs up and heads to the camp community that they will call home for a few months. Marty will leave during the week to work, but Pearl and the kids will stay at the camp until the end of the season.

Early on in their stay at the camp, Pearl meets a man who sells blouses out of his van for a living. Walker Jerome (Viggo Mortensen), as she later discovers his name to be, is a free spirit who just may offer her the escape she’s been hoping for from the dull routine of her life as a housewife.

Tony Goldwyn (1990’s Ghost, 2003’s The Last Samurai) directs A Walk on the Moon, a period romantic drama written by Pamela Gray (2010’s Conviction).

Oh, Viggo, you bohemian blouse seller... (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The stage is set quite well as the film opens with a Bobby Darin song: “More,” released in 1964, five years prior to the film’s setting.

With the time period and general family dynamics established as the song plays over the family’s drive to the camp, the frustration of Pearl is the next aspect of the story to become clear, cluing the viewer into the fact that there will be rocky roads ahead.

Marty, while not a completely deplorable husband, lacks attentiveness and sympathy toward his wife’s feelings, which makes her frustration understandable. Things could be much worse for the family, but in Pearl’s small world of taking care of the home, her husband’s attitude obviously makes her feel stifled.

Pearl is a character that probably wouldn’t sit well with a lot of people, but she’s simply acting on a frustration that a lot of housewives had in the mid-20th century, brought on by a monotonous and repetitive life of heavy responsibility. Her actions are selfish, but the film is simply attempting to portray one extreme reaction to dealing with this “housewife syndrome.”

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Pearl’s “downfall” begins when she visits “the blouse man” to watch the moon landing with him. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

As expected, things get a little crazy when Pearl begins exerting her new-found “freedom.” (The film earned its “R” rating from the MPAA due to a few scenes of nudity and drug use.)

This plot could easily seem a bit contrived, but the cast saves that from happening. Good performances are given across the board. Lane is completely convincing in her role of dissatisfied young housewife and mother, and her performance is matched by those of Schreiber and Mortensen.

As for supporting performances, Tovah Feldshuh is quite impressive. I’m convinced that, she must be a more dramatic version of Marjorie Main in The Women, reincarnated to appear in this film. Aside from the genre of the film, the only real difference between the two ladies is that Tovah’s stuck in a resort community rather than stuck in Reno.

In terms of historical accuracy, there are a few factual errors and some of the clothes look too typical of the late ’90s to suit the late ’60s time period. In general, however, the film captures the mood and look of the era pretty well.

Pearl laughs when nude hippies invade the camp's beach, while the rest of the campers react in shock and horror. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)
Pearl laughs when nude hippies invade the camp’s beach, while the rest of the campers react in shock and horror. (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Social changes and big events like Woodstock and the moon landing seem less like a tactic to connect the film to its period and more like simple events in the lives of the characters. (This is the same thing I always loved about the television series ‘American Dreams,’ despite its anachronisms.) Everything ties well into the lives of the characters without seeming like a try-hard effort to emphasize the time in which the story is set.

Another plus is that the film is very quickly paced. There aren’t really any huge, surprising developments to the plot, but somehow it works. At one point I checked the time while watching and realized I was already 40 minutes into the film, but it felt like I’d been watching for only fifteen minutes.

Don’t be fooled: This is still a mushy romantic drama more than anything. But it’s certainly an entertaining one, with period appeal and solid performances. The score: 4/5

Advertisements