This touching, gentle film marks Reese Witherspoon's impressive film debut. "The Man in the Moon" did not make the impact it should have done on the public, probably because it came out at the same time as "My Girl", which starred big names (Macaulay Culkin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Ayckroyd). The films are slightly similar but the child actors in "Moon" far outshine the simpering affectedness of Chlumsky and Culkin in "My Girl" and it's a shame that Witherspoon's talent took longer to be discovered.
Set in 1950s Louisiana, this is a film about first crushes and true love; about the difficulties of parenthood and sibling rivalry; about when friendship teeters on the line of something deeper; about love and heartbreak. Danni, a tomboy headstrong 14 year old, feels overshadowed by her beautiful sister Maureen, but the relationship they have is close. When a new neighbour, Court Foster (sensitively played by Jason London) moves in, sisterly ties are tested. Danni moves from fantasy crushes on Elvis to her first real love; Maureen finds in Court the passion which has been missing from her previous relationships; and the Trant parents watch helplessly as their daughters grow up and apart, before being forced to come together in the face of tragedy.
Beautifully directed, the film can occasionally jolt the viewer when they least expect it (Danni's whipping, Marie's discovery in the field). I have only given it 4 stars rather than 5 because I feel the score by James Newton Howard (coincidentally he also wrote the music for 'My Girl'!) is rather cliched and sickly-sweet.
The cast is superb, even the smallest characters are well-played and beautifully drawn (Court's troublesome younger brothers, the old lady in church) and several generations of stories told in approximately one and a half hours. "The Man in the Moon" works on many different levels and is a film to be treasured.