Shoot The Moon

Director: Alan Parker  
Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Karen Allen

Although I have talked about in past reviews about the various relationships people can have, I haven't talked about relationships that much. Since I mostly review B movies, it doesn't come up that often - B movies concentrate on thrills rather than interpersonal relationships. But I'd like to talk about relationships now, specifically how they can evolve over time. Years ago, I learned, believe it or not, from a Dave Berg cartoon that relationships can eventually develop and drift into unplanned ways. The cartoon consisted of a young man talking to a woman. It started off with the young man saying something like, "I knew my wife right from the start, when we were children. We were next door neighbors, so we really grew up together. We started off as childhood sweethearts. Some years passed by... and by then we were in junior high, and we started dating. A few more years passed... and we were in high school. We were going steady... and naturally we went to the prom as a couple. College followed... and of course we went to the same college together. And by then we were living together in the same home. As it happened, we both graduated on the same day. Shortly after college, I popped the big question to her... and she accepted! A year later we finally got married, we honeymooned, and settled into spending the rest of our lives together. And then nine months later... the expected thing happened!" The woman listening to all this at this point said, "What a wonderful story! So tell me, was it a boy or a girl?" And to that, the man answered, "Neither! We got DIVORCED!"

Although I was a child when I first read that cartoon, it really educated me, not just with the obvious fact that few other people could make a cartoon as lame and predictable as Dave Berg. The cartoon taught me that with relationships, even when things in a relationship seem absolutely perfect, sometimes way down the line the people in the relationship can sometimes find all of a sudden that they can't stand to be with each other. This begs the question why do some relationships that start off so well end up placing the participants in an unenviable position. Well, there are a number of reasons why. Some people might get along in the outside world, but find they clash when they live together. (I personally know someone who I consider a great friend, but I know I would go nuts if I was his roommate due to his eccentric and loud home life.) Another reason that some relationships go sour is because of unforeseen and sometimes tragic occurences that can happen. I have seen and heard about many relationships that ended due to things like the death of a child, the loss of a job, or financial hardship. But I think one of the biggest reasons so many relationships go south is that the participants, unintentionally, find themselves growing in other directions. People don't just grow up from infancy to the age of adulthood - they continue growing through their minds as well. Sometimes even if you try to make a valiant effort to maintain the relationship, the relationship can still fail. Action star Chuck Norris once said that with his first wife, they had to re-evaluate their relationship every few years, but despite this there came a time when they discovered that they had grown apart to such a degree that there was nothing they could do but divorce.

Needless to say, the movie that I'm reviewing here, Shoot The Moon, deals with a relationship that has turned sour. Some of you may be puzzled as to why a movie reviewer with a vast interest in B movies is all of a sudden reviewing a serious drama. There are several reasons. I like to review the occasional drama because I like a little variety in my movie diet. Variety gives me something Shoot The Moonnew and doesn't make me go numb by seeing the same stuff over and over. A second reason is that I want my web site to reach as wide an audience as possible, and including dramas in my reviews will possibly attract readers to my site who are just interested in dramas, or watch plenty of dramas on a regular basis. Also, reviewing the occasional serious drama gives me a challenge. Dramas make me think more both about the movie and how to review it. It helps to keep all of my reviews up to snuff. So please read this review because of all the hard work I've put into it, okay? The events of the movie are centered on the Dunlap family, consisting of four young girls (two of them played by Tracey Gold of Growing Pains and Tina Yothers of Family Ties) whose parents are George (Finney, Annie) and Faith (Keaton, Annie Hall). At first glance, the family seems to be content - they have a nice home in northern California, George is a successful writer, and he and Faith have been married for fifteen years. But it doesn't take long to find out there are serious problems in George and Faith's relationship. The marriage is strained, enough so that George has a secret mistress named Sandy (Allen, Raiders Of The Lost Ark). George loves Sandy, but he is unsure about how to break up with his wife so he can cement his relationship with Sandy - he doesn't want to cause pain to his daughters, and he still has some feelings for Faith. But Faith eventually finds out about the affair her husband is having, and George moves out of the house. Not long afterwards, Faith starts to have an affair with Frank (Peter Weller, Robocop), the man the Dunlaps hired to build a tennis court on their property. It's unclear, however, if Faith is in love with Frank or is just using him as a way to get revenge against her cheating husband. There are definitely signs that she is not at this point one hundred percent for the idea of ending things with George. Can George and Faith find happiness, either with or without each other? For that matter, what will happen with Sandy and Frank?

As you can see from that plot description, Shoot The Moon isn't exactly a fun-filled enterprise that has a subject matter that's appealing to a mass audience. But it's not just the subject matter - divorce - that is unconventional; it's also how the subject matter is presented. In other Hollywood movies, when two characters decide to get a divorce, we almost always get some kind of detailed explanation as to why the couple in question has decided to break apart. But there are no simple answers for the reasons leading to George and Faith's break-up. Indeed, in the last part of the movie, George's eldest daughter Sherry (played by Dana Hill of National Lampoon's European Vacation) asks him straight out why he and her mother decided to split, and George's answer is simply, "I don't know." At that point in the movie, I tried to remember everything that I had seen of George and Faith up to that point, and I realized that the movie was leaving it up to the audience to figure out what went wrong in this relationship. Thinking about it more and consulting the notes I made while watching the movie, I did come up with some clues and possible answers, though I won't reveal my conclusions - I will leave it up to you. As I said before, the movie has no easy answers, and that seems to be the point the movie is making about failed relationships. Watching George and Faith throughout the movie, I saw they are complex people, as real people in life usually are. They are not predictable people as in typical Hollywood movies. As a result, I was hooked; not being spoon-fed information, I knew I had to pay more attention to get any possible answers. These two characters, as well as many of the others found in the movie, truly live and breathe. They have good points and bad points, and while I might not have cared about them, I was definitely interested in learning more about them and why they were splitting up.

The screenplay for Shoot The Moon was written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman (who earlier wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), and he deserves a lot of credit for the complex characters who act and talk like real people. But he is not the only one responsible for the successful way the movie's characters are sold. A lot of it goes to the actors who play these roles. Obviously, most of the movie belongs to Albert Finney and Diane Keaton, and both of these actors do an outstanding job, not making their characters overbearing for the most part, but instead giving their characters a realistic tone. Finney makes George confused and unsure a lot of the time, which is understandable - he has feelings for the two women in his life, and doesn't quite know how to treat his daughters during the whole mess. Keaton does not make Faith some kind of superwoman, instead showing throughout that every day has some kind of struggle - but often a struggle that can be overcome with just a little more effort than usual. That's not to say that Finney and Keaton keep the same tones throughout - they have scenes where their character cry or get extremely angry, but they keep such great emotional scenes as believable as the tones found in their everyday lives. But the acting honors don't just belong to Finney and Keaton. As the new people in George and Faith's lives, Peter Weller and Karen Allen have somewhat small roles, but instead of making their characters ones that the audience will disapprove of, somehow make their characters largely sympathetic and likable. And there are four other performers in the movie that other critics seem to have looked over that I would like to point out. It's the performances by the four child actors who play the daughters of George and Faith. These child actors are extremely good. While their characters don't contribute a great deal to the central story, these four girls all the same do an outstanding job as the daughters. They really come across as natural and enthusiastic as little girls often are in real life, and at times you could almost swear you are seeing a documentary on real children instead of actresses hard at work.

All of these four child actresses probably got a lot of help from director Alan Parker (who also did Pink Floyd The Wall and Mississippi Burning), though with the adult actors Parker seems to have known that the best thing to do was to point the camera at them and let them do what they know best. That's the simple but effective direction Parker uses for the most part in Shoot The Moon, though he does add some atmosphere such as by shooting most of the outdoor scenes in bad weather. When there is a rare moment of good weather, there is usually something that prevents us from cheering up, like the characters being at a funeral. Parker's direction is solid for the most part, but it isn't perfect. While most of the movie doesn't have a musical score, when it does play it's someone playing a piano very slowly, note by note. To me, musical scores of this nature (such as also in the Ted Danson movie Dad) are annoying and come across as manipulative. Maybe you think otherwise, but you would likely agree with me with the two other problems I had with the movie. There are some blatant product plugs on display here. There is a radio commercial for the MGM Grand Casino, the children sing a song from the movie Fame twice, and a television is shown with The Wizard Of Oz on display. (Needless to say, Shoot The Moon is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production.) Despite those two aforementioned problems, towards the end of Shoot The Moon I was preparing to label it as a great film in my subsequent review. Then came the final few minutes of the movie. I won't say what happens in those final minutes, except it seems way out of character for the individual in the center of it all, with the entire scene seemingly coming out of a schlocky horror movie. If the movie wanted to show the character's feelings all out in the open, I think it could have been done in a more subtle manner. The movie overall is a good one, but if you are in the mood for a great movie, I strongly suggest you grab your remote and press "stop" once the movie gets to the one hour and fifty-seven minute mark, just before that wrong-headed final sequence begins.

(Posted October 2, 2014)

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See also: Breezy, My First Mister, That Championship Season