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A Walk on the Mild Side

[whitespace] A Walk on the Moon
Photograph by Jonathan Wenk

Sitting Pretty: Diane Lane and Live Schreiber enjoy an intimate moment in 'A Walk on the Moon'.

Memoir of a Catskills summer romance is ethnic but unthreatening

By Richard von Busack

The key scene in A Walk on the Moon shows us a teenage daughter, Alison (Anna Paquin), sneaking away from her family's cabin at summer camp to attend Woodstock. By complete happenstance--and to her great anger--she observes her very married mother, Pearl Kantrowitz (Diane Lane), lying on the grass and making out with her new boyfriend. The movies may have lost charm and imagination. They may have even lost that tenuous connection with real life that made them urgent. But one thing they still have is a straight-faced way with a bald coincidence.

I want to be fair. This slick-as-patchouli-oil debut by Tony Goldwyn, grandson of the founding Goldwyn and an actor, has something. There's a larval movie here that could have been coaxed alive. Most of A Walk on the Moon's appeal comes from its setting: the Catskills summer camps, a vanished milieu in upstate New York, where neighborhood women and children enjoyed a low-budget summer amid the pines and mosquitoes. It's a bright, homely backdrop for a movie--a witty atmosphere that spawned some of the brashest comedians of the century but a life long gone now. (Goldwyn found his replica Catskills in the Laurentides outside Montreal.)

Apparently, however, this subject wasn't enough, and A Walk on the Moon turns into a romance about the middle of a changing era. Our heroine, Pearl, is a young mother whose husband, Marty (Liev Schreiber), is working in New York. She's drawn into an affair with a free-spirited second-hand clothes dealer who has a bus with a bed in it. The dealer is named Walker Jerome; he's played by Viggo Mortensen, who needs to soften his features when he's assaying lovers: his tenderest glances always look like those of a man on the verge of a trunk murder.

A Walk on the Moon is based on a first-time screenplay by Pamela Gray, who has previously written scripts for Hallmark Hall of Fame. This was her UCLA thesis, which won the Samuel Goldwyn Award, the Jack Nicholson Screenwriting Prize, and the Marty Klein Comedy Award. Of course, it won all of the awards: it's ethnic yet unthreatening. It conjures up the '60s while playing to the iron prejudices of the '90s. It flirts with the wild life while coming out foursquare for solid marriages and family values. It suggests free love--in the most head-shop-poster terms, with scenes of a nude couple kissing under a waterfall--while firmly banging that gong labeled "Responsibility." (The straying mom is punished--her child is stung by wasps while she's away with her lover.) Music cherished by many is used to decorate this stodgy film, including almost all of the Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" by Bob Dylan and "Cactus Tree" by Joni Mitchell. In this context, the music is like a butterfly appliqué on the side of a cash register. Now that the dreams are long gone, they're coming after our memories.

A Walk on the Moon (R; 105 min.), directed by Tony Goldwyn, written by Pamela Gray, photographed by Anthony B. Richmond and starring Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen.

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From the April 1-7, 1999 issue of Metro.

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