Directed By: Robert Mulligan
Starring: Sam Waterston, Tess Harper, Gail Strickland
Tag line: "Remember when you couldn't wait for your life to begin... and then, one day, it did?"
Trivia: Reese Witherspoon answered an open casting call in Nashville, Tennessee, for extras, but ended up landing one of the lead roles
1991’s The Man in the Moon marked the screen debut of Reese Witherspoon, who was only 14 when it was made. After watching her in this film, it’s easy to see why she went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Danielle Trant (Witherspoon) is a 14-year old tomboy (she prefers that people call her Dani) growing up in 1950's Louisiana. She lives on a farm with her strict but loving father (Sam Waterston), her caring (and very pregnant) mother (Tess Harper) and two sisters. Older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) is 17, and is considered a beauty by all the local boys. But Maureen wants more out of life, and is preparing to go away to college in the fall. Dani, meanwhile, passes the hot summer days by skinny-dipping in the neighbor's pond. One day, she's joined (albeit inadvertently) by an older boy named Court (Jason London), the son of Marie Foster (Gail Strickland), an old friend of the Trant family. At first, Dani and Court don't get along. Soon, however, a friendship develops between them, which soon gives way to romance. While Court can't shake the feeling that Dani is way too young for him, Dani has no problem whatsoever with their situation. So, when Court finally meets Maureen, and sparks fly between them, Dani can’t help but feel a little betrayed.
The Man in the Moon might have easily drifted into sappy chick-flick territory were it not for director Robert Mulligan. No stranger to the problems of small-town America (earlier in his career, he helmed the 1962 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird), Mulligan gives his characters enough space to develop beyond the stereotypes found in most standard Hollywood romances. Sure, Dani’s tale of teen angst has TV movie-of-the-week written all over it, but her problems feel genuine, and we sympathize with her, despite the fact we tend to agree with both her father and Court that, just maybe, Dani’s not quite ready for a boyfriend. As for Witherspoon, her performance is near flawless. To watch her so convincingly portray this very likable young girl is simply amazing, especially when you take into account this was her first time in front of a movie camera.
Make no mistake: The Man in the Moon is a tearjerker. But it’s also a wonderful motion picture, one that carts you off on an emotional journey you’ll feel all the richer for having taken.