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NewCityNet Moonwalkers

By Ray Pride

APRIL 5, 1999:  Not everyone on the road to Max Yasgur's farm was on the way to Woodstock.

It's summer of 1969, and the working-class Kantrowitz family's Catskills summer respite from Brooklyn is disturbed by, among other things, free-lovin' hippies trekking to the decade's largest music fest, love-in and mudbath. Pearl (Diane Lane), 32 and repressed, who's only been with one man her entire life (husband Marty) whiles the week away herding her two kids (including 14-year-old Alison; the always-vital Anna Paquin), and listening to mother-in-law Tovah Feldshuh (memorably frank), while Marty (Liev Schreiber) sweats out the time between weekends as a TV repairman. Pearl, rooted in 1950s values, has a bittersweet feeling life may have passed her by. Then, on the verge of the moon landing - overarching symbol of the sixties and the future - Pearl meets the itinerant "Blouse Man," free spirit Viggo Mortensen. A torrid romance follows, as well as the logical, painful, real-life repercussions to Pearl's late-blooming emotional adolescence.

While the elements may sound both contrived and unduly low-key, there's a rare directness of feeling in Tony Goldwyn's "A Walk on the Moon," as well as a multitude of vibrant performances. (Paquin is incredibly at home in her character's awkwardness, playing Alison with precocious intelligence and sensitivity; Schreiber hits all his notes, comic and melancholy, with aching precision.)

"Walk" tells the story from Pearl's perspective with the density of experience, playing off the constraints of average films, filled with extraordinary moments of fervent honesty. Diane Lane's touching performance suggests, unlike most movies, that women have the same sexual needs as men, the same feelings of desire, guilt and often, confusion. "A woman is either a spider woman or 'Fatal Attraction,'" producer Dustin Hoffman enthuses, "and for me [this story], is groundbreaking."

Goldwyn says, "It's about championing the right to do anything you want, as long as you accept the responsibility for what you are doing. To know that life is not clean and neat. It's messy and love is messy and families are messy. Growth is messy and painful."

"A Walk" is Hoffman's first go producing a film he's not in, and he's quick to note that he was "purposely" never on the set, instead running interference for Goldwyn behind the scenes. He compares Paquin to DeNiro and Brando. "You want to be a good boy, do what you're supposed to do. You fight against it, you say, this is my time. But Paquin's one of 'em, you roll the camera and she puts no demand on herself at all. One take after another, she just throws it away until it hits or something Tony said to her clicks. The courage, not just to fail, but to be utterly boring, like Brando did. They're not called 'keeps,' they're called 'takes,' actors think you have to keep everything! Then Tony, I could tell from watching the rushes, took the other actors there, telling them, 'Take it down, take it down.' You rarely get that, you get the opposite. Actors talk together, we're like convicts, y'know, 'How was that take?' We're giving each other direction, then it's, 'Sh! Here comes the screw!' Sometimes directors say, 'Let's hear it.' But then they're gonna say, 'It's gotta be bigger,' and it doesn't. Tony understood that as much as any director I've seen."

Hoffman and Goldwyn had a spirited give-and-take during the two years of rewriting (with screenwriter Pamela Gray), casting, shooting and editing, but Hoffman says his final cut was there to protect Goldwyn, not him. Their collaboration extends to finishing each other's sentences, "It was this thing," Goldwyn begins, "Go one better," Hoffman continues. "Go one better," says Goldwyn, "Then Dustin would say, 'Yeah, that's good, but how 'bout this?' You create this kind of alchemy together where it's not about who's the boss, or who will have their vision intact, it's about collaboration, y'know, which too few people understand how to do."

Goldwyn had a trick as he took on his new role as actor-turned-director. "I fantasized about what the qualities of my ideal director would be, the directors that I craved when I was an actor, and I tried to emulate that. I have so often felt constrained or controlled, that a director has an idea what they want, and I want to come in and bring my contribution, and I would feel limited somehow. The few directors I've worked with who have inspired, when I'm done, I feel like I've been able to fly because a director took my hand and went, 'Go!' There was this interaction, this collaborative, chemical reaction between actor and director. Obviously directors come in with ideas and a point of view and actors bring in their set. Between the two, you create something that's alive. That's similar to our collaboration, it was never Dustin saying, 'It has to be this way,' or me saying, 'Forget about it! I won't do that!' We'd throw stuff up, then we'd be in business. Talented actors, all they need is someone to help them achieve their potential."

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