I've been pulling up some old DVD and Video Risk reviews from the cybertomb that once was EInsiders.com. Hope you enjoy. This review was from October 2000.
Are you are considering shucking the wife (or husband as the case may be) and kids for that sweet young thing who makes you feel like you were 18 again? Before you unzip anything you should really take a look at Alan Parker's 1982 drama "Shoot the Moon." Divorce is like death except the corpse is still walking around. Parker has created a harrowing journey through one family's self-destruction.
Set in rural Marin County, "Shoot the Moon" chronicles the end of the fifteen year marriage of George and Faith Dunlap (Albert Finney and Diane Keaton). George is a successful writer who has drifted away from the woman who bore him four daughters and into the arms of Sandy (Karen Allen), a woman almost half his wife's age. Parker deals with the ramifications of George's decision to leave his family. It is as if a bomb explodes during the opening scenes and we then view the aftermath.
My parents had nine marriages between them. Due to my history, "Shoot the Moon" churned up a lot of dark memories. This is a painful movie and definitely not a first-date film. There are no bad performances. Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Karen Allen and Peter Weller are all excellent. Each of their respective talents are tested, however the performances of the four children of this marriage outshine those of their elders.
Finney portrays George as a man who has hardened his heart against his wife. He seeks to rekindle the fires of his youth with another woman. Ironically, the movie does not show any of the heat between George and Sandy to justify him abandoning his family. I got the impression that Sandy was nothing more than a flaky, hippie chick feigning interest in George's intellect in order to snag a sugar daddy. I may be wrong. There are however several scenes which let the viewer know just what a fool George was to stop loving his wife. The scene in which Faith has dinner with Frank (Peter Weller) at her home is charged with the magic of a first date with that someone special you end up sleeping with right away despite the fact that your brain tells you to wait. Ms. Keaton is wonderful in this scene. Her brain tells her to slow down, but heart is being stirred in ways that she hasn't experienced for years. The fear that she could never feel special again, that her heart, like her husband's, had hardened beyond repair, overwhelms her and she comes alive. The scene is tender, short and culminates in one of the most romantic screen kisses I can remember. This scene along with one in which Faith, alone in the bath, sings "If I Fell " by the Beatles show the confusion and pain of a woman who has been screwed over despite doing everything the marriage contract required. Next to "Annie Hall" this is Ms. Keaton's finest hour.
The Dunlap children are portrayed (from eldest to youngest) by the late Dana Hill, Viveka Davis, Tracey Gold and Tina Yothers. The fact that each of these young girls went on to have successful careers as teens and/or adults is a credit to the casting director. Each of these actresses bring to life the 3-dimensional characters scripted by Bo Goldman. Dana Hill's Sherry has just reached adolescence. She is aware of her father's philandering and feels totally helpless to stop the carnage to come. The other three daughters witness the events through more naive, childlike eyes. Kudos to Mr. Goldman for writing such children. Many an otherwise good film has been marred by poorly written or acted child's roles. (The "Pepsi" girl in "The Insiders" for example.) The children's performances in "Shoot the Moon" are as strong as those of the kids in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The heart and soul of this movie is the performance of the late Dana Hill as Sherry Dunlap, the 13 year-old daughter of George and Faith. Miss Hill's performance is astounding considering the adult heavyweights she plays against. In several scenes, Ms. Hill conveys her inner feelings with only body language and facial expressions which show a talent and maturity as an actress that far exceeds her chronological age. Sherry is aching to scream out at her parents to pull together, but being a child she does not have the strength to confront them at first. As a result she is torn apart on the inside. Ms. Hill translates this inner conflict with subtlety and grace; she doesn't seem to make any wrong moves in this performance. The world of film lost a great talent when she lost her battle with diabetes. Sherry Dunlap refuses to have any thing to do with her father after he leaves the house. She loves her father but she loves her family more. Were she to visit with George and his young squeeze on the weekends she would be condoning his actions. Sherry believes that to do so would make it easier for her father to stay away forever. In one climatic scene (and there are several!), George forces a confrontation with Sherry which is shocking in its brutality. One expects (and almost always receives) an excellence performance from Albert Finney. Dana Hill goes toe-to-toe with Mr. Finney, especially in this scene, and comports herself like a heavyweight champion. These two magnificent actors make the viewer believe that they really are father and daughter. Keep the abovementioned scene in mind when viewing the later scene between them on a beach at nighttime. Watching this movie is, to use a cliche, like peeling an onion one layer at a time. Each new scene is a revelation, and often leads to tears. (Yeah, I cry at movies, so what!)
The pace set by director Parker allows time for deep character development. There are small touches which may not move the plot along, but do make the characters come alive. I especially liked the scene in which the four girls watch their parents on TV as George wins a national writer's award and the scene in which Viveka Davis' character does her Wicked Witch of the West imitation while watching "The Wizard of Oz."
There are some problems with the movie, and these may be laid firmly in the lap of the writer. There is a scene in which the three younger girls question Sandy about what it's like to make love to their father. The scene rings false for two reasons. First, it is unlikely the kids would ask the question or that Sandy would answer. Sandy's flaky response is obviously a writer's trick to give Faith ammunition to use against George later on. There are a couple of other examples, but none of these mistakes do major damage.
As I've said before, I don't like "spoiler" reviews so I will not discuss the emotional ending other than to say I'm still bothered by what happens. George's actions and those of Frank are questionable. I'd like to know what you think of the movie in general and the ending in specific. Watch the movie. E-mail me and let me know what you think of the ending (or any other movie for that matter).