Richard Benjamin's Racing with the Moon is a nice example of the intimate movie's Hollywood swan song in the early- to mid-80's. In a little town on the misty northern coast of California in the early stages of the Second World War, two young men await their induction into the Marines and find love in their own ways as their departure date looms. One is Hopper (one of Sean Penn's many fine performances), son of the town gravedigger, a spirited, good-hearted kid who falls for Caddie Winger, a beautiful girl from the other side of the tracks -- the posh side.
Elizabeth McGovern continued to demonstrate her ability as an actress as Caddie in Racing with the Moon, making her character very real and appealing. In her hands Caddie is a great match for good-hearted Hopper, but she's not just a Nice Girl romantic interest for the lead actor, as could easily have been the case had an actress of lesser ability been cast -- she's a complex and appealing character in her own right. Thanks to McGovern's skillful handling of the part, Caddie has her own legs and can stand alone.
(A note from the infatuated: She is also absolutely lovely in the movie.)
Nicholas Cage chews on the scenery in inimitable style as Nicky, Hopper's friend. His troubled relationship with Sally (Suzanne Adkinson, looking very 1940's) is offered up as the dark side of Hopper and Caddie's relationship, which, while technically true, isn't particularly interesting -- we like Caddie and Hopper without needing to see the negative image of their innocent young love.
Many other quality performances help enrich the movie. John Karlen is especially terrific as Hopper's dad. From our perspective, unstuck in time, it's fun to watch some of the small roles in this 1980's movie played by the likes of Crispin Glover, Michael Madsen and, of all people, Dana Carvey.
Racing with the Moon is an appealing slice-of-life film about young people being young people in a turbulent time. It's touching and bittersweet. Watch the 40's small-town life as portrayed in Racing with the Moon and contrast it with the horror awaiting young men beyond the horizon, on faraway beachheads. At one point, gesturing beyond the shoreline with much bravado, Nicky shouts that there's a war going on out there somewhere. We know, as does everyone in the movie dealing with these young men, that that's where he and Hopper are going, and it's a sad realization.
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