Whimsy has practically disappeared from American movies, in part because it’s so difficult to pull off, and in part because today’s audiences don’t seem to be exactly clamoring for it. Cynical times, these.
But whimsical is the best word to describe “Box of Moonlight,” an immensely likable fable about learning to lighten up. Al Fountain (John Turturro) is an electrical engineer whose rigorously structured life leaves no room for spontaneity. He’s more automaton than human being, the kind of guy who takes a full minute to react to a joke, but he leads a happy life because he’s blissfully unaware of how uptight he really is.
While overseeing an out-of-town construction job in rural Tennessee, Al is dismayed to spot a gray hair tumble from his head. The next day, he begins to see things - water pouring from a pitcher, a kid riding his bike - moving backward.
The visions trigger something in Al’s mind. When the job is canceled, his co-workers all head home. But Al decides to stick around and use the time to revisit a nearby lake that was a favorite childhood haunt. On the way there, he meets a strange young man named Kid (charismatic newcomer Sam Rockwell) who dresses like Davy Crockett, resides in a gaudily decorated trailer in the middle of the wilderness and scares the hell out of Al.
Naturally, Kid will show Al a few things about living life impulsively. But even if the characters’ destination is predictable, writerdirector Tom DiCillo (“Living in Oblivion,” “Johnny Suede”) makes getting there terrific fun. “Box of Moonlight” has the same ethereal quality as its title, and DiCillo’s feather-light touch is able to turn simple events like a tomato fight or a campfire dance into joyous celebrations of the human spirit’s need to cut loose and play.
xxxx “Box Of Moonlight” Location: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Tom DiCillo, starring John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener, Lisa Blount, Dermot Mulroney Running time: 1:50 Rating: R