Dont' Come Back From The Moon review Alyssa Elle Steinacker Jeffrey Wahlberg

Year: 2019
Director(s): Bruce Thierry Cheung
Writer(s): Bruce Thierry Cheung, Dean Bakopoulos
Region of Origin: US
Rating: n/a
Color, 82 mins

Synopsis: Fathers in a small desert town abandon their children one by one, leaving behind a wake of anger and crime as their sons and daughters come of age. (Source)

Don’t Come Back From The Moon is proof that not all coming-of-age films should look, sound or feel the same. Though the transition from youth to adulthood is universal, each of us have a different view of it, despite a genre that frequently leans into trends and repetitive shorthand. Adapting a book from Dean Bakopoulous, Bruce Thierry Cheung’s latest is impressionistic and profound. With its desolate setting and sensitivity, Cheung’s film is brimming with urgency. Stitched together with a sparkly score from The Chromatics’ Johnny Jewel, the film glides like a dream that haunts even after we wake up. 

The story centers around teenage Mickey (Jeffrey Wahlberg), alongside his younger brother Kolya (Zackary Arthur) and their mother Eva (Rashida Jones). The three live in an unnamed, forgotten beach town. Though it was probably once a bastion of opportunity, it’s now been lost to those beyond its borders. Now, all who are left want to leave its isolated clutches in search of a different life. In fact, the town’s men do just that. One day, they suddenly disappear, leaving Mickey’s family and a host of sons, daughters and wives behind. Those who remain claim that their fathers and patriarchs left for the moon. This of course sends everyone, especially the town’s young into a spiral, leaving them in search of an anchor as they’re suddenly forced to grow up in the face of uncertainty. 

With a fascinating mystery at the story’s core, Cheung blends waking fantasy with an unyielding portrait of growth. Refreshingly, Cheung’s film isn’t tied down to the what or why of its impressionist mythology, but rather its implications. In dancing around the film’s apocalyptic certainty, Cheung keeps his focus on the impressionistic humanity of his youthful subjects. Using Bombay Beach as a stand-in for the novel’s Detroit, the film’s atmosphere and setting blend fact with fiction, highlighting dust-swept realism alongside Mickey and his friends’ struggles with displacement, isolation and confusion. At the heart of the film, is an examination of parenthood, legacy and a drive to do the best with what we’re given. Needless to say, Cheung handles all of it with a very empathetic delicacy.

Dont' Come Back From The Moon review Jeffrey Wahlberg

Helping to sell the film’s realism, is a cast who’s able to inhabit the screen with understated sincerity. Since the film more or less focuses on the fleeting moments that occur between the scenes of most other films, Cheung uses his performances to flesh out a world that’s both alien and close to home. Jeffrey Wahlberg is a fitting centerpiece, carrying the film’s angst but also its hopes. Alyssa Elle Steinacker steals the scenes that she’s in, giving Sonya a presence that’s felt even in absence. Rashida Jones, Zackary Arthur and James Franco (in an extremely brief role) round out Mickey’s family, making the most of small roles by fleshing out the world. 

Plain and simple, this film ain’t gonna be for everyone. In the best way though, Cheung’s film is one that we emotionally understand, rather than one that feels tied down to obvious logic. In turn, this is a film that chases after intangible ideas and emotion. It also leading to a conclusion that’s as satisfying as it is beautiful. Don’t Come Back From The Moon doesn’t easily fit into a single genre but also very clearly captures the moment we learn to step outside of our parent’s shadows.