Urban Cinefile
"The film has SUCH a good heart, and such a powerful effect, particularly on women of a certain generation"  -Cate Blanchett on Paradise Road
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Friday May 22, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Henry (Hopper) Nash (Sean Penn) and Nicky (Nicolas Cage) are childhood buddies celebrating Christmas in 1942 which heralds their last six weeks in small town California before they are inducted into the marines and march off to war. It's a testing time for Hopper, the local gravedigger's boy, to take a shine to Caddie (Elizabeth McGovern), the new girl in town who lives in the "Gatsby" mansion on top of the hill and is therefore, he imagines, beyond his reach. Caddie, however, is a down to earth girl. She discovers that Hopper has hidden depths but their romance is interrupted when Nicky's girlfriend falls pregnant, putting the kind of pressure on the four teens that they have never had to deal with before.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
It is the second winter of America's belated involvement in World War II and there was a bonding of innocence, wonder and patriotism among the young men who were set to fight and summarily sacrifice their lives on distant shores. Far away from the hostilities in Europe, life in a tiny coastal town in Northern California, is still peaceful and quiet. But childhood buddies Hopper and Nicky are aching for something out of the ordinary. They have joined the marines and are restless in their need to "fit it all in" in the six weeks they have before they leave it all behind. Richard Benjamin's film floats on a wave of nostalgia, never rising to great heights...nor sinking on tides of sentiment either.

This simple and slightly serious coming of age story looks at love and misunderstanding through the eyes of Hopper, a sensitive kid with a good heart who falls for Caddie, the town librarian and box-office girl who Hopper imagines to be rich...and therefore, out of his league. It's Nicky's girlfriend Sally (Suzanne Adkinson) who is the centre of the film's major crisis when she falls pregnant and needs to raise the money for her abortion. Setting the pins at Al's Bowling Alley doesn't pay that kind of dough, and so Nicky sees "Gatsby girl" Caddie as his great white hope, but it's Hopper who has to ask her for the money, thereby compelling Caddie to compromise her principles.

It's a pretty fragile piece, full of characters and incidents that don't quite connect and fragments of quirky humour that seem artificial and spoil the film as a whole. It's unlikely, for example, that Hopper's father would ever confuse the boy's name with his dog, Argus; just as improbable that an old man leaving a store would make a habit of taking a sniggering swipe at the teenager with his walking cane and unrealistic for Hopper's mum to imagine that her gravedigger's son might one day play concert piano at Carnegie Hall.

But the film is saved from mediocrity by the talent of its young cast. Penn doesn't have a lot to say, but he radiates warmth, compassion and frustration through action and expression on that always interesting face. McGovern, who fell in love with Penn on the set and was briefly engaged to him, embraces the role with grace, charm and a fierce intensity when she demands that Nick "stop the goddamn car." Cage, who was always more convincing in his early parts (and still, basically, has only the one expression), is effective as the trouble-prone dim-wit who is clueless until he does the hard yards learning a sense of responsibility. He has a "memorable moment" singing Tangerine at the bowling alley while dancing with a broomstick; Penn and McGovern go skinny-dipping in a lake that really was freezing and the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Of Company B is, inevitably, a feature of the early '40s soundtrack. Nothing very much happens, you see, but it has a sweetness and a tenderness that just might make you think it is better than it is.

Published March 24, 2005

Email this article

(US, 1984)

CAST: Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth McGovern

DIRECTOR: Richard Benjamin

SCRIPT: Steve Kloves

RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9 TVs 1.78-1 Dolby Digital: English 5.1, German, Spanish, Italian, French Mono.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Richard Benjamin. The Story - The People, The Making of Racing with the Moon. Featurette: The Race Goes On


DVD RELEASE: February 10, 2005

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020