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
Produced byMark Rydell
Written byJenny Wingfield
StarringSam Waterston
Tess Harper
Jason London
Emily Warfield
Reese Witherspoon
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Edited byTrudy Ship
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • October 4, 1991 (1991-10-04)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.8 million[2]

The Man in the Moon is a 1991 American coming of age drama film. It was the final film directed by Robert Mulligan, who then retired following a 40-year career, and features the film debut of Reese Witherspoon.


In the summer of 1957, Danielle "Dani" Trant is a 14-year-old girl in Louisiana who, according to her father, is "too big 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 (Waterston) tells Dani to accompany Court into town for groceries, Dani and Court drive into town and start to get along. Dani finally realizes that she is in love with 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, knowing Dani isn't home, and runs outside looking for her. 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 for treatment (concussion and toxemia). 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. While Dani visits her mother in the hospital, Court comes over to the Trant house and kisses Maureen.

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 leaves for home, Court goes back to plowing the fields and falls off the tractor, and is badly injured. Dani sees this, and 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."[3]

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


The film was highly praised by Roger Ebert, who 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.[5]

The Man in the Moon currently holds a rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 20 reviews and the sites consensus 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]


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.[7]


  1. ^ "The Man in the Moon". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  2. ^ Box Office Mojo. "Man in the Moon". Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  3. ^ "From the archives: Robert Mulligan discovers Reese Witherspoon - Film Journal International".
  4. ^ "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". May 3, 2012. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 7, 2013). "The Man in the Moon Movie Review (1991) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 7, 2013). "Director pulls credit after airlines cut film | Roger Ebert's Journal | Roger Ebert". Retrieved October 12, 2013.

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