September 4, 2020
The Man in the Moon (1991)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Robert Mulligan
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Jason London, Tess Harper

What it's about. Set in 1957 rural Louisiana. The Trant family consists of father Sam Waterston, pregnant mother Tess Harper, blonde tweener daughter Reese Witherspoon, hottie brunette teen daughter Emily Warfield, and small child Missy (Brandi and Sandi Smith).

Conflicts begin when the boy next door moves in. He is young Adonis Jason London, the teenaged son of widowed Gail Strickland, who also has twin sons (Derek and Spencer Ball) about ten years old. Witherspoon develops a crush on London. He is attracted to her but holds back since she is underage.

A late evening skinny dipping session with London leads to a whipping from her father, and the hospitalization of her mother, who is injured in a fall while searching for Witherspoon. Not to worry, she heals quickly in the hospital, and delivers her baby, yet another girl.

Warfield meets London, and the two are promptly an item. This makes Witherspoon seethe. Because it is a movie, London has a devastating tractor accident, further aggravating the rift between Witherspoon and London. Not to worry, as they make up before the credits roll.

The Man in the Moon was the film debut for Reese Witherspoon, who landed the desirable lead role. She is only fourth billed, though, below even Gail Strickland, who has relatively few scenes. Witherspoon's career advanced to A-list status, while Emily Warfield toiled away in supporting roles, mostly for television.

The film was the last in the career of Robert Mulligan, who was a leading director for the ten years between 1962 (To Kill a Mockingbird) and 1971 (Summer of '42).

How others will see it. The Man in the Moon had a minimal box office, but drew notice for its potentially starmaking roles for young actors Witherspoon, Warfield, and London. Today at, the movie has a respectable 15K user votes, and a more than respectable 7.4 user rating.

Older women grade it highest (7.8) while non-U.S. viewers grade it lowest (7.2). Presumably, older women have greater sympathy for the two mothers and two older daughters, while foreign viewers have a more jaded view of romantic love than is presented here.

The user reviews are overwhelmingly positive: "Beautiful coming of age film"; "One of the best movies I have ever seen"; "Heartbreaking story about first love". There is the usual undercurrent of criticism, mostly concerning the final-reel plot resolutions. But if you want to watch beautiful teenagers entangled in soap opera subplots, this film is for you.

How I felt about it. Reese Witherspoon and her prominent chin are indeed convincing in her film debut. Ernie Lively has a memorable early role as a middle-aged man shamelessly courting a repulsed Emily Warfield.

The Main in the Moon begins well, but gradually declines after Jason London shows up. It is difficult to believe that London would not take advantage of the willing Witherspoon. It is melodramatic that Harper falls in the dark while searching for Witherspoon, and even more melodramatic that London is run over by his tractor.

It is difficult to believe that Warfield would jeopardize her close relationship with Witherspoon for a fling with London, when she is days away from leaving home to attend Duke University. One also wonders how she can afford the tuition, or how the impoverished Strickland can afford London's costly burial and tombstone.

There is also the matter of Waterston's occupation. He doesn't seem to be a farmer, though he lives in farm country. He always seems to be home, at least when he isn't fishing. He has a wife and four daughters to support. I wonder how he does it.