Don’t Come Back from the Moon

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Don't Come Back from the Moon
dir Bruce Thierry Cheung
scr Bruce Thierry Cheung, Dean Bakopoulos
prd Jay Davis, Lauren Hoekstra, James Franco, Vince Jolivette
with Jeffrey Wahlberg, Alyssa Elle Steinacker, Rashida Jones, Henry Hopper, Zackary Arthur, Hale Lytle, Jeremiah Noe, Cheyenne Haynes, James Franco, Robert Scott Crane, Ambar Velazquez, Anthony Ontiveros
release US 18.Jan.19
17/US 1h22

jones hopper franco

Steinacker and Wahlberg
Narrated in a nostalgic style and set in an otherworldly dusty place, this coming-of-age drama is distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd. Filmmaker Cheung adeptly captures the youthful energy of his teenage characters as well as the human connections between a variety of people struggling to survive with the odds stacked against them. Yes, the metaphors very nearly overwhelm this timely, haunting film.
With their isolated Salton Sea town crumbling and the factory closing, the men begin to move away. When Roman (Franco) vanishes, his 16-year-old son Mickey (Wahlberg) has to rise to the challenge and help his mother Eva (Jones) and little brother Kolya (Arthur). He also falls for Sonya (Steinacker), who has also lost her dad (Crane). Instead of moping, this expanding gang of teens parties like it's the end of the world, expressing their anger toward the men who abandoned them and promising that they'll never leave each other. But of course, things change.
The film opens with a voiceover from Mickey: "When I was 16 my father went to the moon." This sets up the film's moody, earthy tone, augmented by the sun-drenched photography and alien landscape. Shot in Bombay Beach, this community looks like it's at the end of the earth, slowly being consumed by the desert. Chananun Chotrungroj's cinematography makes the place itself one of the film's most vivid characters. And Johnny Jewel's almost subliminal score is just right.

Performances are remarkably understated, offering characters who are easy to identify with. Even in moments of heightened emotion, the film never tips into melodrama thanks to sensitive young leads Wahlberg and Steinacker, plus a strikingly restrained turn from Jones. It' also helps that the fathers and other teens are depicted with complexity, as each person has his or her own distinct style of inner turmoil. Wahlberg (nephew of Mark and Donnie) has particularly strong screen presence, marking him as a young actor to watch.

Cheung shifted the setting of Bakopoulos' source novel from Detroit to the Southern California desert, which offers a seemingly unlimited scope for inventive visuals and thematic resonance. As the film continues, powerful ideas relating to redemption and forgiveness swell up to underscore the growing connection between Mickey and Sonya, as well as an awkward relationship between Eva and one of her haircutting customers (Hopper). So while the ending feels a little glib, it still carries an emotional kick.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Jan.19

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

send your review to Shadows... Don't Come Back from the Moon Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.

© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall