YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL : on THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991)

FROM THE MGM STABLE

THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991)

This is my original writing on this beautiful, underrated classic from 1991 that I had written on 18th August, 2014.

Of course as if with all things bright and beautiful, I saw it on the MGM channel.

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Those initiated with general knowledge regarding popular culture will cite THE MAN IN THE MOON as Hollywood vanguard Robert Mulligan’s swansong as the veteran passed away after wrapping up the production. However such an infinitesimal or one – sided recognition of this work will mean unfairly categorising the maker and his heartfelt, carefully constructed creation ; this film is a youthful yet timeless yarn with an old world truth, lyricism and poetic romanticism, like every good novel or cinematic approximation of life is supposed to be. It is a labour of love on the part of Mr. Mulligan who left us with the beginning of another life force, just like the blooming tale of discovery within the narrative. That beginning was to be with his find for the lead role.

Above anything else, this was the launchpad for a startling, luminous turn by performing world’s best loved darling Reese Witherspoon. At 14, her intimate, bracing portrayal of a 1950s Louisiana girl Dani Trant tugged at our heartstrings. It’s our luck that she continues to thrive all these years later given that child actors don’t always end up prospering due to numerous reasons.

Relaying the movie’s identity turns out to be just as much impacting down the line for us . THE MAN IN THE MOON stakes its drama on the first flush of uncharted joy experienced by Dani as she falls head over heels in love with her charming 17 year old neighbour Court Foster (Jason London) ; positive reciprocation sets her private sanctuary of innocent musings astir like it never was. Before we can bat an eyelid, her elder sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) joins Dani’s chorus and coos beatific notes of true love for the same guy.

So going by this gist, one may think this screenplay is about congealed passions mingling with sibling rivalry and a battle of wits among them. Never does this sensitive progression toe the predictable metrics of such an outline and the dynamics of emotional vulnerabilities accosting our three protagonists are naturally designed according to their collective adolescent angst. There is the prominence of precocity, stubborn will and rosy guilelessness on Dani’s part. There is also the splash of age appropriate curiosity regarding the nature of things in each one’s share. This post puberty boom of self enquiry gets caressed by the naturalistic filmmaking etiquettes of Mulligan whose eventful credits include such great, all time venerated classics like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (I have seen it last year) and SUMMER OF ’42(which has been highly praised by many of the older prefects of my family)

The throb of hearts beating for a ray of light, a moonbeam and beauty in their lives, all symbolic of the ardour of companionship, are to be found in the filmed sequences. These include Dani’s clandestine swimming escapades with Court, Maureen and Court’s profound moment of clarity in which they seal the strength of their mutual attraction and the spring in Dani’s spirit as she sings along to Elvis Presley’s definitive ditty IT’S ALL RIGHT while putting clothes on the laundry line, to put her finger on feelings for Court.

Then one fine day, these bittersweet dreams get washed away as a sudden downpour of melancholia lashes the fertile, innocent playground harboring them. Court comes in the throes of an unforeseen circumstance.

Never resorting to wringing sentimental characterisations or plot points for the sake of it, this concise exemplification of cinema has an astral, star struck and, in the later passage, emotional gravitas that benefits largely from the lead trio’s performance. I have to say that if Reese could give such an astute performance then it’s no wonder that as of today, she has emerged as a true blue superstar balancing her glamour struts with realism, sass, box office success and great choices, turning every script to gold.

Gail Strickland, Tess Harper and Sam Waterston stand in for practical wisdom, anchoring the leads as their parents and the stalwarts bring years of experience to profound effect.

Kudos especially to music director James Newton Howard and cinematographer Freddie Francis for capturing the required nuances of storytelling .

THE MAN IN THE MOON has an efficacy and humanism difficult to match, in a world where love and lust have breached boundaries while adolescence has become a wellspring of misguided self destruction. Another one of MGM ‘s dearly admired works of art, for me, this one is a winner and a reminder of the simplicity and lucidity of the 1990s era.

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