Box of Moonlight
Starring Sara Wynter

My Rating:

A fun retelling of the classic scenario wherein an uptight man gets the stick removed from his...

Bitable Bytes:
"Turturro makes a good hick!"
"The film takes great care in including specific symbolic events!"
"Unambiguous philosophizing happens!"
"A whole lot of sloppy, gushy heart!"

What to do while watching: : Wait for something more.

What to eat while watching: Beanie weenies.

The one thing about John Turturro that I've never gotten over his how entirely he embodies every character he plays. Now, unlike Filthy, I'm partial to John Cusack. I think he's often fun to watch. But almost every time I see him act, I notice that I can see right through the character he's playing to the actor, John, who is just so delighted to be a Hollywood star. John Malkovich, on the other hand, never seems to let his character fade, but Malkovich's face is so distinctive that I, personally, can never shake the feeling that he's John Malkovich playing someone else. That film, Being John Malkovich, with both John Malkovich and John Cusack, did some damage to Malkovich's credibility as an actor, I think, not because the film was mediocre, but because it debunked and demystified Malkovich as an actor. Now John Wayne--he was always the same guy, but who cares? He was John Wayne.

But I digress. Turturro is always the character he plays. Something about his face is elastic enough to allow him to be almost any nationality, almost any character type. I think of the over-passionate theater director in Illuminate, perhaps the closest character to Turturro himself--but how can one tell? And then there's Barton Fink, whose small integrity is steadily oppressed by his bosses and his own desire to do his job well. What about his roles in Miller's Crossing, and O Brother Where Art Thou? Two totally divergent characters: one a mobster who pleads for life in the most memorable scene of that film, the other a hick convict with the hidden talent of yodeling. Turturro makes a good hick. And I mustn't forget The Luzhin Defence (reviewed in my archives) where he plays a tortured Russian chess genius. Or Do The Right Thing, one of the greatest films of the 80s. The man is accomplished.

So, what I'm getting at is that this film has Turturro playing his part to the hilt. Al is an electrical engineer, the foreman on an installation that is cancelled just days before completion. Al is a hard-nosed, robotic man who is only graceful when talking to himself. He has trouble dealing with others because he's stiff as a board and cold as a fish. It's all about rules and regulations. Perhaps this isn't a hard role to play, since it is so singly faceted; however, old Al will have a change of heart before this film is over!

Yes, when he overhears his workers calling him an uptight jerk, he enters into a midlife crisis. Though the job is cancelled, Al hangs around town, looking for a lake he swam in as a child. His adventures throw him into the company of a young freak called Kid Buck, played by Sam Rockwell. The kid lives in a ramshackle hut and makes his meager needs by stealing lawn ornaments and reselling them. He alternates between spouting (the white-man's version of) Native American wisdom, and being a doofus. Mainly, he's the opposite of Al in every way. I kept thinking of David Spade mixed with Johnny Depp and just a little too much of (ugh!) Pauly Shore.

Al manages to stay with Buck for longer than he has to, fabricating excuse after excuse because he's having a good time--or at least a needful experience. The two get into various scrapes and enjoy nature. They meet two girls and have flirtatious fun. Meanwhile, the film takes great care in including specific symbolic events:

o The rental car company is Circle Rent-a-Car, and Al notices a few times that he has "been driving in circles."
o Al sees a burning easy chair by the side of the road just as he sets out on his midlife-crisis adventure.
o Round things, like baseballs and hubcaps, figure prominently.
o Al is into timekeeping, but after many days with Buck, shoots a clock with a rifle.

The film also makes an effort to give some social commentary:

o A preacher who Al meets is later arrested for murder.
o Someone sights Jesus in a fading billboard for hamburgers, and the small town gets into an uproar.
o The lake Al visited as a child has been ruined by toxic runoff.
o The cops are lazy, foolish clowns.

And the most unambiguous philosophizing happens to make sure that all viewers are on the same page:

o Al realizes that his midlife crisis began when he noticed his first gray hair.
o Al consistently generates aphorisms: Life is like a road. Life is like a ripe tomato. Life is like a parade. Etc.
o Buck talks in nothing but pithy truths most of the time.

And finally, Al returns home, and he's not such a stiff stick-in-the-mud anymore. Now he demonstrates some spontaneity, and his wife is pleasantly surprised. He gives his son the gift of some fireworks--something any half-awake viewer can predict 20 minutes in the movie and feel good about having predicted correctly. It's nice to have the most obvious expectations fulfilled: Not once watching this film did I feel any urge to jump up and scream, "That's unprecedented!"

And so, there's a certain silly charm in the film. It's very light and the moments of play between Al and Buck are often delightful to watch. It's like being on a camping trip, or going to Burning Man, except that it's just for two to four people. An even better version of this summer camp scenario happens in the more interesting Japanese film, Kikujiro (reviewed in my archives).

I think you would enjoy either film if you are in the mood for a light, fun tale. Box of Moonlight is spiced with just a little romance, just a tiny bit of violence, and a whole lot of sloppy, gushy heart.

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For your collection: Box of Moonlight (VHS), Box of Moonlight (DVD), Kikojiro (VHS), Do the Right Thing (VHS)

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