Liar's Moon

Director: David Fisher
Matt Dillon, Cindy Fisher, Hoyt Axton

Over the many years that I have devoted to this web site, I have in my reviews talked about many different things about movies. Among other things, I have talked about acting, direction, special effects, and location shooting. I've also talked about many times about the writing in movies. Before I really get into the movie I am reviewing here - Liar's Moon - I would like to talk about a certain aspect of writing that often comes up in the movies that you watch, whether they be well known or unknown movies. It's probably something I have discussed before, but with all my writing over all these years, I can't be absolutely sure. That aspect of writing I would like to discuss is the formula. For example, there is the formula that originated in the short story The Most Dangerous Game and has been resurrected in countless movies since the first official adaptation. Then there is the formula found in westerns about the evil land owner who is trying to snatch up every bit of land around him to add to his empire. When I mention such formulas, probably the first instinct you think of is that formulas are a bad thing and that movies need more originality. But recently I thought about it, and to my surprise I came to the conclusion that a movie with a formula is not necessarily a bad thing. Let me compare it to, of all things, cheddar cheese. You know what cheddar cheese tastes like and feels in your mouth. I certainly do. But I like the sensation of cheddar cheese in my mouth. Yes, I've have eaten it many times in the past, but I never get tired of it. In fact, as I am typing this last sentence in this paragraph, I am sorely tempted to leave my desktop computer and pop into the local supermarket and buy some cheddar cheese to snack on.

In other words, sometimes something familiar - like a movie formula - can be very comforting and satisfying sampling over and over again. Of course, it has to be up to standards - I wouldn't snack on cheddar that had mould growing on it, and I demand that a resurrected movie formula be done with an acceptable amount of competence. So I'm not immediately against a movie with a familiar plot, even if the plot happens to be one of the most popular formulas of all time. The specific extremely popular formula I'd like to talk about here is the star-crossed lovers plot. It was popular even before motion pictures were invented, the most famous example being the William Shakespeare play Romeo & Juliet. Though Shakespeare's play wasn't the first to deal with the idea of star-crossed lovers, it is without doubt the source many subsequent star-crossed lover stories got their inspiration from right up to the present day. The question comes up as to why the idea of star-crossed lovers has hit a nerve with so many writers. I believe there are several reasons. One reason is that I think the struggles of the lovers in these stories make audiences feel good about their own relationships - the observers of the story are almost certainly not struggling as much for love as the people in the stories are. There is often pleasure seeing people suffering. Another reason is that the search for love is something most of us in the audience can relate to. Observing people in some sort of story struggling to keep a relationship together strikes a nerve and makes it easy to identify with the protagonists.

I have to admit that a lot of times I find it hard to sympathize with the lead characters in a star-crossed lovers tale. Quite often the lovers don't do the simple and logical thing, and that is run off and elope. If Romeo and Juliet after getting married had run off together to a neighboring territory, Liar's Moonstayed there until having a kid or two, then returned to their home turf with their kids, I am sure their parents would have had to have accepted the relationship and stopped their silly feud. So when I am in the mood for a star-crossed lovers story, I try to look for one where circumstances as well as characters are more believable than usual. When I stumbled upon Liar's Moon, my pre-viewing research on the movie uncovered evidence that this particular star-crossed lovers story might be a more realistic take on the subject than usual, with not only the lovers acting more believably, but with surrounding circumstances posing some interesting problems for the couple. The events of the movie take place in the late 1940s. In a small town in the eastern part of Texas, teenager Jack (Dillon, There's Something About Mary), who lives with his lower class father (played by Hoyt Axton of Gremlins) and mother (Margaret Blye, Ash Wednesday), has just graduated from high school. Jack is seeing Ginny (played by Cindy Fisher), the daughter of the town's very wealthy banker (Christopher Connelly, Earthbound) who has recently returned to town from boarding school. Over the course of the summer, Jack and Ginny fall in love, much to the objection of Ginny's father, who does not elaborate why his daughter should not be seeing Jack. Eventually, the couple decides that they will have to run away if they want to stay together, so they elope to Louisiana, where Jack gets a job in the state's oil drilling industry. The two are in love, so they feel that there are happy times ahead as well as now. But Jack and Ginny do not know that Ginny's father has hired a tough private detective (Richard Moll, No Dessert Dad, Til You Mow The Lawn) to track his daughter down. Not only that, the lovebirds do not know that there is a long buried secret that if exposed, could destroy any possible happy future for the two of them.

As you could probably see from that plot description, the star-crossed lovers in Liar's Moon have a challenge that old Romeo and Juliet didn't have hundreds of years ago. People in many ways were more naive back in Shakespeare's time, so this modern audience member could somewhat understand why Romeo and Juliet didn't just run off together. The lovers in Liar's Moon are more modern. True, their events take place back in the 1940s, but their experiences should all the same be more relatable than Rom and Julie's experiences to more savvy audiences. Not just when the movie was first released, but also to people in the twenty-first century. As it turns out, Liar's Moon's screenplay (written by the movie's director, David Fisher) does in several aspects make key events in the story more plausible than you might think. The whole falling in love part of the movie, for example, makes a good attempt to be pretty believable. Though there is an attraction between Jack and Ginny from the start, it does not become actual love for some time. The couple are sometimes apart from each other for lengthy periods in the first half of the movie. And the times when they do get together, we see a growing relationship in every subsequent meeting instead of instant lust a la Romeo and Juliet. When they are finally in love, they only decide to run off after their repeated heartfelt requests for their parents' blessings for the relationship become painfully futile. And life on the run after getting married is not portrayed as some kind of paradise - they live a lifestyle that is lower class and that has more than its share of drudgery.

I appreciated those aforementioned realistic touches found in Liar's Moon. Unfortunately, it seems that for every realistic and effective story touch in the movie, there is at least one other touch that is far from satisfying. For example, when the two lovers discover their parents have been trying to keep them apart, the movie abruptly cuts to the next scene and does not have them deal with this fact. Later, Ginny's father, who starts off as reasonable and gently tries to persuade Ginny not to pursue a relationship with Jack, soon becomes a shouting adamant figure we've seen in plenty of other places before. I could go on for some time listing other unsatisfying touches of the story, but I think that I should focus more on the heart of the movie, that being Jack and Ginny. It's possible that with a strong core, the shortcomings surrounding it could be forgiven. But as it turns out, there is something quite unsatisfying about the relationship between the two lovers. Although I said that the movie makes the right attempt in showing a building relationship over time, I don't think that there were quite enough moments showing the building relationship - or enough time given to scenes with the two characters together. Before the two run off, there are a number of moments devoted to the two characters apart with other people (or not showing them at all) that really don't contribute anything to the heart of the movie and just seem to be wasting time, like the scene where two of Jack's friends peep on a woman undressing. In the end, I simply didn't buy the couple's declaration of being in love when it happened, and it was hard to care about them and their relationship. These weak characters may explain why I found the performances of the two leads to be somewhat lacklustre. Matt Dillon has certainly shown his acting ability in other movies, but here he seems to be holding back except for a strange sounding accent he sometimes gives his character. Cindy Fisher seems uncertain at times how to show what her character is feeling or thinking, and her soft spoken tone for most of the running time doesn't manage to show much passion that her character should be expressing.

Somewhat better performances can be found in the supporting cast. Hoyt Axton only has a few short scenes before exiting the movie for good, but his trademark easygoing charm does grab your attention enough that you'll wish he had a lot more to do in the movie. And Christopher Connelly, though the writing eventually makes his character a stereotype, does manage to successfully show in several scenes a softer side, and that his character is not a complete lout and really does care about his daughter. I'm pretty sure, however, that Axton and Connelly got these good moments on their own without much help from writer/director Fisher. Watching the movie, Fisher's priorities seem to be on surrounding things instead of the heart of the enterprise, the romance. I will say that what Fisher focuses on, namely the look of the movie, does seem to be pretty well done for what couldn't have been a large budget. Although there is the occasional slip - modern-looking clothing and newspaper clippings - he does manage in the end to build a world in front of the camera that looks convincing enough. And on the technical side, the world of this movie is well photographed and lit, with the camera always seems pointed at the correct angle to capture the action. But while there may be some kinds of movies where eye candy can save the day, I think that most people who go to a romantic movie are more concerned with the characters and their relationship than how good the characters and their surroundings are appearing visually. Liar's Moon simply doesn't have a compelling relationship or compelling lead characters, and that alone will make the movie a big disappointment for any lover of romance. Romeo & Juliet may come across as somewhat hokey today, but it all the same has more compelling romance and lead characters than this movie has.

(Posted March 6, 2018)

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See also: Breezy, My First Mister, The Secret Sex Lives Of Romeo And Juliet