The Man in the Moon

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The Man in the Moon
Man in the moonposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Mulligan
Written byJenny Wingfield
Produced byMark Rydell
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Edited byTrudy Ship
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 4, 1991 (1991-10-04)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.6 million[2]
Box office$2.8 million[3]

The Man in the Moon is a 1991 American coming of age drama film. It was the final film directed by Robert Mulligan, from a screenplay written by Jenny Wingfield. It stars Reese Witherspoon in her film debut, Sam Waterston, Tess Harper, Emily Warfield, and Jason London.

The film’s story, set in rural 1950s Louisiana, centers around Dani (Witherspoon), a 14-year-old tomboy who experiences first love and heartbreak when older boy Court (London) moves next door. The film received critical acclaim, making Roger Ebert’s list of the Top 10 Films of 1991.[4]


In the summer of 1957, Danielle "Dani" Trant is a 14-year-old girl in Louisiana who, according to her father Matthew, is "too small to be running off by herself." Dani and her older sister Maureen, who is going off to college in the fall, are very close. Maureen helps take care of their younger sister, Missy, while their mother Abigail is pregnant.

Dani however prefers to listen to her Elvis Presley records and run off to the neighbor's creek to go skinny dipping. It is here that she meets her new neighbor, 17-year-old Court Foster. Court kicks Dani out of his creek. When Dani goes home, her mother tells her to wash up because an old childhood friend is coming for dinner with her children.

The Trants' old friend turns out to be a widow, Mrs. Foster, with her three sons Court, Dennis, and Rob. When Dani realizes who Court is, the two dislike each other. Court calls Dani "a little girl". When Dani's father Matthew tells Dani to accompany Court into town for groceries, Dani and Court drive into town and start to get along. Dani develops a crush on Court.

Maureen goes on a date to a dance with her boyfriend Billy Sanders. When they leave the dance, Billy wants to park his car and have sex. Maureen gets angry and breaks up with Billy because she believes "love should be beautiful". The next day, Dani asks Maureen for advice on how to kiss a boy. Maureen demonstrates by practicing on her hand.

Dani and Court continue to go swimming during the hot sunny days and become very close friends. The two agree to meet to go swimming at night, since Court has too much work to do during the day. Dani sneaks off and swims with Court until they reach the point where they are about to kiss. Court pushes Dani away and says she is a little girl that doesn't know what she's doing, and runs off home.

Dani leaves too just as a thunderstorm is breaking out. Abigail wakes up and runs outside looking for Dani. Just as Dani gets home and runs to her mother, her mother also runs and trips on a root, falls and hits her head. Dani's father races her to the hospital, where she is kept in order to treat a concussion and toxemia caused by her fall. When her father returns home from the hospital, he spanks Dani with his belt.

The next day, Court brings food to the Trant house and apologizes to Dani for the other night. Dani, still hurt, just ignores him at first, until Court says he would still like to be friends. The next time they go swimming the two share Dani's first kiss. Dani is still hurt and angry at her father for hitting her. When he tries to talk to her the next day feeling remorseful for using his belt on her, she only replies with "Yes Sir" or "No Sir" to his questions.

Once Dani has made up with her father, he tells Dani to invite Court over once in a while so he can get to know him better. When Court comes over for dinner, he finally meets Maureen. Dani can tell it is love at first sight for the two of them and now feels like the odd one out. While Dani visits her mother in the hospital, Court shows up at the Trant house where Maureen is home babysitting Missy. Though initially reluctant to return Court’s affections because she knows about Dani’s feelings for Court, Maureen gives in and she and Court kiss.

Over the next few days, Dani is getting pushed away by Court. While the rest of the family goes to pick up Abigail and the new baby from the hospital, Court and Maureen proclaim their love for each other, consummating their love in a field. When Maureen sneaks back home, she is caught by Dani. Dani realizes Maureen was with Court, and angry at her sister’s betrayal, she runs towards Court’s farm alone. Meanwhile, Court has been plowing the fields and, distracted by daydreams of Maureen, falls off his tractor and gets into an accident. Dani arrives at Court’s, greeted with the sight of Court badly injured in the field cradled by his inconsolable mother. Dani races home to tell her father.

When Matthew returns home, he has some of Court's blood on his clothes and the family realizes that Court has died. Maureen hides her pain at first, while Dani bursts into tears. After Court's funeral, Dani continues to be angry at Maureen for stealing Court away from her. Matthew tells Dani that although she has a right to be hurt, being mad won't bring Court back, and Maureen will be her sister for life. Dani comforts Maureen as she weeps on Court's fresh grave, and the film ends with Maureen and Dani talking on the porch at night as the summer draws to a close, looking up at the moon, becoming close again.



The Man in the Moon marked the film debut of then 14-year-old Reese Witherspoon. Director Mulligan commented that casting her in the role of Dani was:

...risky business, to say the least. We had a casting team that went out and saw several thousand kids and tested them on video. When I saw Reese's test, she just jumped off the screen, simply as a personality. I couldn't tell whether she could act or not, but she's got a wonderful face and there's a brightness and intelligence there. Then, when I tested her in Santa Monica, a strange breakthrough took place. Early in the movie, Dani is a bit of a tomboy. Reese was trying to project this in a scene where she had to get angry with the boy, but it had a false ring to it. Because in real life she isn't a tomboy. She's a real "girl" girl. Just before we did another rehearsal, I told her I wanted her to chew gum. Well, she started chewing gum and all of a sudden the performance happened. She was tough. Strong. Direct. And the scene worked. Like that. In an instant, it was there. What was marvelous was, at the end of the scene, Reese knew that something happened. Her compass, her sense of what's real, kicked in. The motor was running and she knew it. It was funny because she said: "Can I always chew gum?" And I said: "Yeah."[5]

The cinematography was by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis.


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 90% based on 20 reviews, with a consensus that reads: "It's sentimental, and some viewers may feel manipulated by the melodramatic final act, but The Man in the Moon offers a finely drawn coming-of-age story with an excellent cast—including Reese Witherspoon in her film debut."[6] On Metacritic it has a score of 73% based on reviews from 18 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[7]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the performances of Waterston, Harper, and Strickland. Maslin also wrote, “Mr. Mulligan also gets an outstandingly natural performance out of Miss Witherspoon, who has no trouble carrying a lot of the film single-handedly. It falls to her to remind the audience that this story is at heart about a family, and she does.”[8]

The film was highly praised by Roger Ebert, who awarded the film four stars in his review and included it at No. 8 in his Top 10 list of the best films of 1991,[4] declaring:

Nothing else [Mulligan] has done... approaches the purity and perfection of The Man in the Moon. As the film approached its conclusion without having stepped wrong once, I wondered whether he could do it - whether he could maintain the poetic, bittersweet tone, and avoid the sentimentalism and cheap emotion that could have destroyed this story. Would he maintain the integrity of this material? He would, and he does.[9]


Later, Mulligan became disenchanted with how the film was edited and cut by airlines, particularly American and Delta Air Lines, for in-flight showings. He became so disturbed by these airline edits to the picture that he insisted that his name be removed from the credits of the film.[10]


  1. ^ "The Man in the Moon". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved April 2, 2021.
  2. ^ "MGM/UA/Pathe at a glance". Variety. May 23, 1990. p. 12.
  3. ^ Box Office Mojo. "Man in the Moon". Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". May 3, 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  5. ^ "About The Man in the Moon". NatchitochesFILMS. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  6. ^ "The Man in the Moon". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  7. ^ "The Man in the Moon". Metacritic. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 4, 1991). "Review/Film; A New Boy In Town Captures Her Heart". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 7, 2013). "The Man in the Moon Movie Review (1991)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 1, 1992). "Director pulls credit after airlines cut film". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 16, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

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