We gave it a C
Whimsy sticks to Box of Moonlight (Trimark) like fairy dust on a greasy tabletop, beginning with the title: The receptacle in question is a knickknack owned by a backwoods sprite called Kid (Sam Rockwell), who dresses in Davy Crockett drag and boasts of being ”off the grid” of rule-abiding American citizenry. The box, he says, traps moonbeams smiling down on Kid’s fanciful forest hideaway — poetry that is alien to Al Fountain (John Turturro), a rigid, joy-phobic electrical engineer who fortuitously crosses paths with Kid just when his own deadened life is most in need of goosing.
Writer-director Tom DiCillo, whose Living in Oblivion made pointed fun of the pretensions of indie filmmaking (the movie was also a last-laugh commentary on the agita attending the making of DiCillo’s own Johnny Suede, starring a then-little-known Brad Pitt), here falls prey to feyness while proselytizing in favor of enchantment. Al, who is given to visions (coffee appears to be running backward out of a cup as it is being filled), picks up a vehicle from Circle-Rent-A-Car and literally drives in a loop in order to end up, rejuvenated, where he was meant to go all along — home to his patient wife and sad-faced son. (Not knowing, perhaps, what the heck to make of Al, Turturro plays him stiff, staring, and slow to react.) Kid likes to steal garden ornaments and eat cookies doused in milk for breakfast; unlike Turturro, Rockwell (a DiCillo discovery who lost the Johnny Suede lead to Pitt and has been waiting for his stardom at-bat, in this very role, for six years) cavorts with unrelenting energy.
At one point the two specimens of American maleness — one a premature old man, the other a Peter Pan — party with a couple of local gals, expressively played by Lisa Blount and fine DiCillo regular Catherine Keener. There’s a barbecue, some fireworks, some psychedelic fun. Lights twinkle. But the sparkling nonconformist spirit the Kid represents never convincingly lights up the screen in this humid midsummer night’s dream. C