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The Man in the Moon explores teen emotions


Written by Jenny Wingfield.

Directed by Robert Mulligan.

Starring Sam Waterston, Tess Harper,

Reese Witherspoon and Jason London.

Now playing at the Loews Charles.


MANY MOVIES AND TELEVISION shows depict teenagers as bouncing balls of hormones. On the rare occasion where a film or video attempts to examine a teenager's emotions, the tone is often condescending, as if teen emotions lack the "weight" and "depth" of adult experiences. The Man in the Moon is a unique film in that it portrays teenagers as people who experience a complex range of feelings, and not just pimply-faced sex fiends.

Dani (Reese Witherspoon) is a 14-year-old who has fallen in love for the first time. The object of her affections, Court (Jason London), is three years older, but because her parents were the same age when they met, she is not discouraged. Dani's older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) quickly thwarts that. Maureen is smart and pretty, and Court falls for her immediately. Needless to say, this puts an enormous strain on Dani and Maureen's previously close relationship.

Dani is a very likable character. She is outspoken and rambunctious, and is constantly on the move. Robert Mulligan, the director of the film, also directed To Kill a Mockingbird, and Dani and Mockingbird's Scout share many similarities. However, it is impossible to imagine Scout's father beating her with a belt, which is what Dani's father does to her in a truly ugly scene. What is even worse is that Dani later tells her father that she understands why he did it. This is a terrible message to send to children and adults -- that an adult in emotional distress is not accountable for his or her actions, including beating kids.

Another disturbing aspect of the film is a tragic event that happens near the end. At first, it seemed to be a disgusting and overdramatic way of making a point about the bonds of sisterly affection. Though in an interview after the screening, one of the actors said that the film is based on a true story, this knowledge will not help the average audience member deal with this harrowing, and even sickening, event. Adults who take their kids to The Man in the Moon expecting a happy little show about life and love are going to be in for a big surprise.

This is Witherspoon and London's first film, and Warfield's first starring role. All three are very appealing, but tend to overact throughout the film. Director Mulligan used close-up shots to try to add intimacy to many of the scenes, but unfortunately the shots only emphasize the overzealous acting. Because all three actors show this tendency, it may be the director's fault rather than their own. Sam Waterston and Tess Harper, however, are as good as one could expect the veteran actors to be in their roles as the parents.

The Man in the Moon is visually very lovely. Freddie Francis, the Academy Award-winning director of photography for Glory, makes the most of the location, a beautiful little town in Louisiana. Even strenuous farm work looks very appealing. The music also adds a lot to the warm, comfortable atmosphere.

The Man in the Moon has many fine qualities, the most laudable of which is a respect for teenagers. Unfortunately, this is not enough to redeem the film of its plot and acting faults.