Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
Tom DiCillo's "Box of Moonlight" is a beautifully observed story of how a tightly coiled electrical engineer learns how to appreciate life after a chance meeting with a free spirit known only as The Kid. It's the sort of movie that would have been trampled by too many conflicting approaches at too many studio story conferences. You can almost envision the artistic compromises that would have been made with the script, the cast, even the title. Maybe those compromises would have made the project more "commercial", but 1997's "Box of Moonlight", DiCillo's superb follow-up to 1995's "Living In Oblivion", is an enchanting, fully realized film on its own unique terms, and a quintessential indie.
John Turturro is Al Fountain, strict with the men who work for him, strict with his young son Bobby (Alexander Goodwin) & strict with himself. A colleague feels sorry for Al and invites him to a card game with some of the other crew members. Just before leaving for the game, Al notices a strand of gray hair, his first. Then, courtesy of a door that has been left ajar, Al finds out how the men really feel about him and he beats a hasty retreat. Then he begins to see time run backward (water pouring from the glass into the pitcher, a bicyclist riding in reverse) and decides that he needs to abandon his timetable for a day or two and take a break.
He returns to the site of many happy childhood memories and sees that it has been abandoned. A nice-looking older man inquires about the state of Al's spiritual health and Al wisely leaves the answer to his imagination. (We hear from that kindly gent again later.) So: Who better for a journey into self discovery than a reckless Kid (Sam Rockwell) who lives by his wits & is always one or two jumps ahead of the law &/or a good hiding? At first glance, the uptight Al & this wild Kid seem to be the unlikeliest of companions, but Al finds more & more reasons to stay on the road and, whenever he calls the stressed-out Bobby at home, he loosens up a bit on those stern directives about homework & flash cards & stuff.
Al & the Kid spend an idyllic summer's day and night with Floatie (Catherine Keener) and Purlene (Lisa Blount), two women they meet at a secluded swimming hole. Al learns what his visions mean and he learns what HE means in a way he never would without the detour. Turturro gives a tour-de-force performance as Al: I don't need to call the Psychic Friends Network to see this tremendously gifted actor giving an Oscar acceptance speech in the not-too-far-distant future. Like its wonderfully symbolic title, "A Box of Moonlight" is a treasure to be savored again & again on repeat viewings
© 1997 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 8/6/97
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