Director: Robert Mulligan
There is something magical and immediately inviting about stories set in the American south. Take for example the film Robert Mulligan is most famous for directing— the big screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Roughly thirty years later he revisits some of the same themes of family and coming-of-age with Jenny Wingfield’s wonderful screenplay The Man in the Moon. The film, which recalls William Inge’s Picnic and the famous Tennessee Williams plays of the 50’s is refreshingly old-fashioned in its tale of two teenage sisters living in rural Louisiana during the long hot summer of 1957. Featuring a stellar turn by an impossibly young Reese Witherspoon in her first performance (after winning the role during an extra’s casting call) as the charismatic fourteen year old precocious Dani Trant who lives in the shadow of her brainy and beautiful older sister Maureen, the film deals with the first stirrings of romantic love as the girls both fall for the newcomer to their community, Court (Jason London) who helps his widowed mother run the long-abandoned neighboring farm. As Dani takes down her Elvis Presley posters and puts away her childish things to try and attract the boy with good-natured swims at the local pond, she must also come to terms with her increasingly complicated life at home with pregnant mom (Tess Harper) who's preparing for the birth of her fourth child and her stern father (Sam Waterston). While the shocking ending is devastating and sudden, the film is perfectly paced, feeling like an authentic slice of Southern life and one that practically radiates the humidity and feel of a lazy summer afternoon as we watch it in our air-conditioned modern day comfort. Reese’s fans will definitely want to take a look along with those like me who love southern stories of growing older. Deceptively simplistic, this subtle film is the most perfect work Mulligan has completed since bringing old Atticus to life with Mockingbird.