Picks and Pans Review: The Man in the Moon

updated 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/28/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sam Waterston, Tess Harper

This is a coming-of-age movie, but don't let that put you off. While it doesn't bypass every bromide of the genre—yes, there's a skinny-dipping scene; yes, there's a love scene in tall grass—it is hoisted by good writing, Robert Mulligan's sensitive direction and fine performances, notably by newcomer Reese Witherspoon, as a spunky adolescent, and Tess Harper and Sam Waterston, as her parents.

It is the end of a Louisiana summer in the 1950s, and 17-year-old Maureen Trant (Emily Warfield) is waiting impatiently for life to make its presence felt. Her 14-year-old, Elvis-mad sister, Dani (Witherspoon), doesn't quite see the problem. After all, Maureen has a scholarship to Duke and the local boys in a swivet. "You're so pretty it hurts," Dani says.

But Dani is on the edge of far greater beauty. She has the long legs of a Derby winner, honey-colored hair that won't stay in a pony tail and a smile that could give you hope in February. She gets a crush on a neighbor boy (Jason London) who seems to return her affection. Until he meets Maureen. Though Man in the Moon has a few cloying moments that seem straight out of The Waltons, there is nothing gauzy or synthetic about it. Mulligan, who directed To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of '42, has a terrific sense of place and of the places in adolescents' hearts. One scene, Maureen showing Dani the proper way to kiss, is itself almost worth the price of admission. (PG-13)

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