DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON is a diet sci-fi story focused more on the inevitable coming of age of its teenage characters than on developing anything else it contains. Do not be fooled by the slightly tempting plot description about men who disappear and leave behind notes to their children saying they “went to the moon.” There are some compelling details squeaking out of this LA Film Festival flick, but a satisfying resolution is not quite one of them.
The film has one thing going for it: tonally and texturally, it’s rather striking. Set in desert climes, director Bruce Thierry Cheung does foster a relatively cohesive aesthetic. It’s on the verge of being a really good high-dea. Specifically, I have this vision of the filmmakers on this project standing around a look-book while one person said, “like, I don’t know, man, what if they shot an Urban Outfitters catalog in Burning Man (a.k.a Beyond Thunderdome) with notes from WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE and THE LAST PICTURE SHOW?” Somewhere along the way, though, it gets a bit muddy. And, sure, you are probably already saying to yourself, “of course things get muddy… those four things do not belong together.” To which I retort: The concept could have landed if there was a single moment in this film that was shot using a tripod.
Clocking in at roughly 90 minutes, DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON feels much longer. Paired with the film’s high concept visuality, fleeting glimpses of (and a production credit from) James Franco, and a bare-bones plot, it seems safe to say this feature is more art house than anything else. Therefore, the tendency for DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON to emphasize mood seems more discursively concerned than narratively motivated. Not since watching all sixteen minutes of Joris Ivens’ “Rain” (about, you guessed it, rain), have I started to suspect major rifts are opening up in our space-time continuum. If you are into that sort of thing, by all means, go ahead and snap up your ticket.
None of my curmudgeonly jabs have anything to do with the quality of acting, by the way. Rashida Jones is raw and intense in a way I never thought I would see her on screen. The charms she brings to her comedic roles are deployed, inverted, and broken in a somewhat surprising way. By contrast, lead actor Jeffrey Wahlberg brings a welcome sense of minimalism to his role that provides a glimmer of depth lacking elsewhere in the film. And, thankfully, James Franco is only on screen for about two minutes… which is just about as much James Franco as I can handle these days.
While DON’T COME BACK FROM THE MOON is not the worst films I have ever seen, it is somehow the most adamantly average and uneventful. Check it out for its southwestern palette, brief jaunts with teenage naughtiness, and unrelenting bleakness.