The Man in the Moon (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★
The arrival of the Fosters next door proves to be a turning point in the relationship between two very close sisters, Dani (Reese Witherspoon) and Maureen (Emily Warfield), when both of them fall for the same boy. Although Dani and Court (Jason London) do not get along, the two are able to find a common ground eventually—Dani seeing the new boy next door as a potential romantic figure as Court tries to convince himself to consider Dani only as friend due to their three-year age difference. Although she is fourteen and he is seventeen, she might as well be in her early twenties and he in his fifties—the gap between maturity level is significant.
“The Man in the Moon,” written by Jenny Wingfield, unfolds like a novel that stands the test of time. The situation might sound simple at first glance but since every character is given layers of detailed complexity, we come to identify with all of them. In some way, shape, or form, we want everything to work out. But the game of life is not concerned about what the players want. Some are given disadvantageous cards compared to others.
There is no fake scene that can only be seen in sitcoms or terrible movies that try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. For example, when Dani and Court are introduced to one another by their respective families, the two having met before at a nearby pond and the interaction leading to an argument, there is no “It’s you!” line and then the characters being forced by the script to overreact by stomping off. Instead, they are allowed to express surprise in the different way. The look in their eyes says it all: While their annoyance with each other remains, we suspect a part of them is glad, too. Or maybe they are not yet ready to admit it.
The relationship between Court and Dani is delicate and dealt with maturity even if the characters are not yet mature themselves. Lesser coming-of-age movies would have taken the easy way out by exploiting an initial response. That is, most people being uncomfortable with the fact that a seventeen-year-old boy might be interested romantically with a fourteen-year-old girl. The screenplay chooses an alternative focus: To explore real thoughts and feelings between these two young people in a specific manner. The masterstroke by director Robert Mulligan is this: We recognize why Dani and Court might be a good couple and yet we remain aware of the factors why it might not be a good idea either. We are conflicted and so are the characters. The material has gravitational pull.
The central conflict does not kick in until more than halfway through the picture. The schism in the sisters’ special relationship is explored through the lens of a perceived act of betrayal. It is difficult to choose sides—or maybe we are not meant to—because the situation is not as simple as a classic case of cheating. Lines are blurred and undefined relationships are put under a microscope for interpretation. We hurt for Dani and Court as well as Court and Maureen. Most importantly, we hurt for Dani and Maureen.
I admired the way the conflict is resolved. I found it brave in that it dares to leave the sisters with a lot of healing to go through. It does not hit one false note. The screenplay treats the difficulty of forgiveness with respect—letting go does not equate to saying that everything that has happened is suddenly all right. In a lot of ways, I found the movie to be wise and that is a rare quality in this day and age.