'Box of Moonlight' offers one solution for midlife crisis
August 7, 1997
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EDT (0028 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- Tom DiCillo's "Box of Moonlight" isn't the most
intellectually earth-shaking thing you're ever going to see,
but it displays a goofy charm.
A great deal of that comes from actor Sam Rockwell, who plays
a character known as "The Kid." The movie is much more
enjoyable than sitting through the umpteenth two-fisted
pistol attack of the summer movie season.
As was the case with his last film, "Living in Oblivion,"
DiCillo tends to repeat himself thematically, but there's no
denying that there's a real comic mind at work here.
While I was watching "Box of Moonlight," I certainly wasn't
thinking (as is so often the case) that yet another schmuck
was aping Scorsese or Tarantino or Spike Lee or whoever it
was that made them decide to go to NYU film school. The
style and heart of the film are unique to its creator, which
is a big compliment these days.
Losing a job gives life new meaning
The story is about growing younger as we get older, an idea
that I wholeheartedly endorse. The problem is, once we
realize that the main character, Al Fountain (an electrical
engineer played by John Torturro) is having a midlife crisis
and must start being less judgmental in order to appreciate
his life, that's really all we get.
DiCillo, who also wrote the script, then approaches this idea
from 20 different angles with a series of vignettes ranging
from the quite amusing to the proudly so-so. It's all a
little bit obvious, but appealingly done.
Normally, Al lives in Chicago. His wife and video
game-obsessed son (whose inept stabs at learning
the multiplication tables are hilarious) patiently wait in
Illinois while Al finishes up a generator job in the
backwoods of Tennessee.
He's the foreman on the job, but we can see that he really
gets little joy from his work, regardless of how much energy
and no-nonsense concentration he puts into it. He knows that
the guys who work under him think he's a joke, or, as he
hears one of them saying, "a robot." When the plug is
suddenly pulled on the job, Tom calls his wife and tells her
that he'll be home in a few days.
Events move in reverse
This gives him ample opportunity to try to loosen up. His
first attempt doesn't work out too well. He excitedly drives
out to a nearby lake that he remembers fondly from a
childhood vacation, but it's a decrepit reminder of where his
soul has gone -- a chemical company has pumped it full of
formaldehyde. Later, while staying at a small hotel, Al
discovers his first gray hair. This somehow causes him to
occasionally see things moving backward in time, like coffee
leaving a cup at a diner and pouring itself back into the
He also notices a little boy riding his bike backward down a
country road. Eventually, he turns a blind corner on one of
those winding roads and nearly slams his car into "The Kid,"
a buckskin-wearing guy in his mid-20s who seems to be the
world's oldest living 13-year-old. For many convoluted
reasons, Al winds up spending the Fourth of July holiday week
with him, and, of course, relearns how to be innocent.
Rockwell is really the catalyst of the movie, and he gets all
the best bits of business. He's a lanky, almost soulfully
goofy performer, who does everything he can to humanize
DiCillo's rather mapped-out idea of a real-life eccentric.
Some scenes have Kurt Vonnegut quality
DiCillo has written some funny lines for him, though. The
Kid makes a living by stealing plastic deer and ceramic elves
from suburban lawns and selling them. He also lives in half
a trailer because, he explains, he got a deal on it, and eats
a daily breakfast of Hydrox cookies floating in a dog bowl
full of milk. Plus, he decorates year-round,
with strings of Christmas lights. As The Kid explains, he's
been "off the grid now for about three years."
You can see what I mean already about the character. It's
like he's been hosed down and rolled in sugar. Maybe it's
just me, but I think it would be possible to understand his
playful nature without dressing him up in a Davy Crockett
suit and making him eat handfuls of yummy cookies. A lot of
his quirks are nice, however. I can't think of another movie
character in the past several years who could believably
initiate a spontaneous tomato fight with someone and have it
seem like the logical extension of his own world view.
There's something to be said for that. The best scenes in
the movie have an almost Kurt Vonnegut-like simplicity of
spirit. I'd be surprised if DiCillo isn't a fan; the concept
of time moving backward before our eyes has Vonnegut written
all over it.
Things get pretty repetitive by the end. A sequence in which
Al and The Kid pick up a couple of sisters (Catherine Keener
and Lisa Blount) at a hidden-away watering hole is sweet, but
there's really no call for it, except to expand the story to
It's also a little disturbing that Al is partially redeemed
by cheating on his wife. All in all, though, I had a
pleasant time with this movie. DiCillo may well be on the
verge of some interesting character-based movies. He just
needs less whimsy and more depth.
"Box of Moonlight" contains skinny-dipping moments of male
nudity, some profanity and a weird, almost disturbing scene
in which Al and The Kid get a big kick out of vandalizing the
plant that Al had been working on. There's some violence.
Teen-agers (ages 14-15) might like it, but other young people
should stick to "Air Bud." Rated R. 107 minutes.
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