Life Is a Tomato Right Off the Vine. Al Fountain, Monday, July 2nd, 4:32 PM

Tom DiCillo’s Coming-Of-Middle-Age Comedy “Box of Moonlight” Film Review

A man dressed like Tom Sawyer runs through a field laughing, as a tomato whizzes through the air, hurled by another man, seen in the distance, wearing a white button up shirt.
Photo Credit: Paul Ryan

Boy, I love Sam Rockwell. I was just thinking the other day how I haven’t seen a film with him in it that I didn’t like, he’s an actor that I’ll always opt to watch. There’s a style to him that I’m drawn to, that smooth, effortless appeal. “Box of Moonlight” starring Rockwell and fellow underrated acting gem, John Turturro, is no different. 1996 was a pretty stellar year for independent cinema: Todd Solondz’s “Welcome to the Dollhouse” — a personal childhood favorite, good ‘ole Wes Anderson’s directorial debut, “Bottle Rocket”, and of course the Coen brother’s “Fargo”. So why aren’t we talking about Tom DiCillo’s sweet story about getting pulled above the water and learning yourself?

Set in some small Southern town, middle aged Al Fountain (played by John Turturro) is on location for work overseeing a team who are installing an electric turbine for a windshield manufacturing company. Real drab — yet necessary — work. His team has zero respect for him, and he knows it. His wife is on another planet and his son cannot for the life of him learn his times tables — despite the comically oversized flash cards Al tells his wife to buy. Poor Al Fountain, wading waist-deep into a mid-life crisis and soon to be back home where nothing ever gets better.

Two men sit in the grass, talking.
Photo Credit: Paul Ryan

Enter: The Kid (played by our guy, Sam Rockwell). Dressed like an overgrown Tom Sawyer with Chucks that have seen better days, the wily and eccentric stranger enters Al Fountain’s life like a tornado. But in a warm-hearted and non-threatening way. I love people like The Kid. They seem to only really exist in films and books, as it’s rare to come across such charismatic and free individuals — at least I think so! I know plenty of interesting people, but rare are those that really live life like they’re the character in their own video game, doing what they want and when. Time is nothing and there’s a real childlike whimsy to match.

Two men look at something off-camera, one holds a rifle in his hands.
Photo Credit: Paul Ryan

The Kid shows Al Fountain how to truly let go and release any fear of judgement or repercussion. They gallivant through a field of tomatoes where Al Fountain mutters my favorite line in the whole movie, the title of this review. Because it’s damn true. I’ve been learning lately that life really is the little things, the moments that fill your heart with joy and make you warm and cozy inside. For me, it’s whenever I turn something groovy on to dance to in the kitchen while I cook something that turns out better than I expected it to. Or whenever my little goddaughter smiles or laughs at me — pure joy. Just like a tomato right off the vine.

I should mention Catherine Keener, because she’s amongst the underrated weirdos frequently cast in Tom DiCillo’s films and plays the role of Floatie in “Box of Moonlight”. If you haven’t jumped on the Keener train, do yourself a favor because she really is excellent. The first film I watched that really drew me to her was “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”, a very complex and equally as impactful movie that I probably watched far too young.

I’ve been on a Tom DiCillo spree as of late, watching “Johnny Suede”, “Living in Oblivion”, “Double Whammy”, and “Delirious” recently. He’s a rad independent film director whom I wish had more features for me to explore. He chooses actors who are underrated OG’s: Steve Buscemi (if you know me, you know how much I am a Buscemi-Head — not sure if that’s a thing, but I’m coining it), Catherine Keener, and Dermot Mulroney. He also got his start as a Cinematographer (my dream job in another life) on important Jim Jarmusch films like “Stranger Than Paradise” and big favorite, “Coffee and Cigarettes” — which features and was co-written by one of my favorite Italian actors (next to Fellini’s muse and wife, Giulietta Masina), Roberto Benigni. I can write a novel on how important Benigni is to me as a film lover, as my mother showed me pictures like “Life is Beautiful”, “Johnny Stecchino”, and “The Tiger and The Snow” when I was a kid (I imagine my child(ren) will grow up watching these kinds of films too, instead of Disney Channel…).

A man sits in the driver’s seat of an old convertible, a fake deer in the backseat behind him looks on.
Photo Credit: Paul Ryan

Bottom line — take life as it comes. Do what makes your heart happy (as long as it’s not serial murder or something or rather), eat a tomato off the vine, and make sure to catch “Box of Moonlight” which is streaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu — and my very favorite, MUBI. Watch the trailer below, and if you end up watching any of the films mentioned, tell me your thoughts!

Two men sit next to one another. One wears a white button up, the other wears a Tom Sawyer costume.
Photo Credit: Paul Ryan

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Aliya Nicole Al-Balooshi

Aliya Nicole Al-Balooshi

Bahraini/Baloch Audience & Revenue Strategist II, Community a la Camber Creative + independent film fan with a casual writing style & a pocket full of thoughts.