The summer of ’69 is loaded with Cultural Significance, what with man’s first walk on the moon and half a million descending on Woodstock. “A Walk on the Moon,” set at a middle-class Catskills resort that historic July and August, is just plain loaded — as in heavy-handed and contrived. Frosh effort by Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions wants to be both women’s pic and coming-of-age piece, but isn’t successful at either. Crix are certain to recall “Dirty Dancing” and “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” but not favorably.
Diane Lane, in her most mature role to date, plays Pearl Kantrowitz, a vaguely dissatisfied mother of two who chooses a summer getaway to sow long-dormant oats and take up with a traveling garment salesman (or “blouse man”) named Walker (Viggo Mortensen). Though seemingly happily married to Marty (Liev Schreiber), a TV repairman, Pearl feels “trapped by life” and secretly resents missing the do-your-own-thing ’60s. When hubby’s job calls him back to the city, Pearl buys a tie-dyed T-shirt, meets up with the blouse man and partakes of free love and nude swimming at the Woodstock bacchanal.
Teen daughter Alison (Anna Paquin) is ripe for her own sexual awakening. When, among the sea of faces at Woodstock, she spies Mommy acting very, well, un-Mommy-like, Alison becomes understandably miffed. This was supposed to be her summer, not Mom’s. Poor square Dad, meanwhile, has no idea what’s going on, until his tarot-reading mother (Tovah Feldshuh), also vacationing with the family, tells Sonny what’s what.
The expected campground scene, a semi-scary accident involving Alison’s brother (Bobby Boriello) and a wasps’ nest, and a questionable reconciliation ensue. Actor-turned-helmer Tony Goldwyn and writer Pamela Gray would have us believe that Pearl, after one interrupted affair, has gotten it out of her system and now everyone can move on. Equally absurd is the mother-daughter bonding. Pearl counsels Alison to wait for Mr. Right, and Alison buys the advice without screaming, “You hypocrite!”
Problems abound as pic deals with the impact of adultery on a picture-perfect family. Given how nice and well adjusted everyone is, Pearl’s behavior takes its toll on audience empathy. Men, feeling Marty’s pain, will most likely squirm in their seats during the extramarital sex and, from this point on, tune Pearl out. Women, on the other hand, will likely understand what motivates Pearl to sneak out at night and put everything at risk. A David Lean (in similarly themed “Brief Encounter”) could appeal to all audience members by creating a well-rounded heroine, who, despite her lapses, remains sympathetic. Goldwyn, less adept at this kind of thing, sets Lane on a slippery slope from which she never recovers.
As the object of Pearl’s lust, Mortensen doesn’t help matters. Supposed free spirit seems cold and uptight and, worse, goes parking in his showroom bus! Schreiber, who has co-producer Hoffman’s nasal delivery down, is a lot more likable, and vet Feldshuh proves pic’s strongest asset. Oscar-winner Paquin’s character is the victim of parallel storylines: Just when we think we’re getting to know this junior radical, focus changes. Julie Kavner (uncredited) supplies the voice of camp’s social director.
Despite strategic references to Joan Baez and pot, pic’s sense of time and place feels synthetic. Vaguely ’60s costumes and interiors should appeal to audiences that don’t know the period. Soundtrack oldies, spotlighting everyone from Burt Bacharach to Richie Havens, are used liberally but not all that effectively. Mammoth Woodstock gathering is suggested by a handful of bell-bottomed, puka-shell-draped stand-ins, plus computerized crowd shots. Which may explain how Alison stumbles upon her mom so easily in the mass of writhing bodies.