One thing that can be said of the 2017 film Don’t Come Back from the Moon is that the story’s setting certainly matches its plot. Both were desolate, lacking any form of fruitful substance, and completely covered in trash.
When I set out to write a review of this film and saw that it had generally good reviews online, I expected to have a mediocre viewing experience at the very least. By about the 30-minute mark of the movie, though, I was struggling to keep my eyes open and was fighting the urge to turn the movie off altogether and watch something more intellectually stimulating instead — like cat videos on YouTube, for instance.
To make matters even worse, the entire film sent a not-so-subtle misogynistic message that women aren’t capable of providing for a household on their own. That, coupled with the fact that James Franco (who has recently come under fire for his treatment of his female coworkers) has a starring role in the film, is certainly enough to make one’s skin crawl.
The message that this movie sends is simple: when the deadbeat dads start leaving town, the mothers they left behind will turn to the bottle and households will fall apart, leaving the youths to drink themselves into oblivion and lead lives of crime. While that may be the case in some real-world homes, let’s not forget that about 15 million children in the United States live in single-mother households and most of them don’t turn to crime and addiction. Some, such as Kevin Hart, Keanu Reeves, and Barack Obama, even turn out to be seriously successful people.
Overall, I had high hopes for Don’t Come Back from the Moon. I wouldn’t say that my hopes were as high as the moon itself, but I expected to be mildly entertained. Instead, what I got was a dragged-out piece of cinema that was completely devoid of any meaningful message and that ultimately made me resent the film’s creators for their infantilizing view of the capabilities of women.
When the fathers abandoned their families, it was said that they went to the moon. This central metaphor of the film was stuffed down the viewer’s throat and tasted bland and entirely forced. The acting was bad. The cinematography was kind of cool. The set design was pretty good. There was no story. Don’t watch this film. Instead, just listen to me rant about it for the next 1,000-or-so words.
Don’t Come Back from the Moon Synopsis
Typically, in writing a movie review, I choose to dedicate a few paragraphs to explain the plot of the film so that readers can have a better context for the praises and criticisms that I follow with. However, in the case of Don’t Come Back from the Moon, it will probably only take a paragraph or two at most considering there was nearly no plot whatsoever. Here we go.
The 2017 film, directed and written by Bruce Thierry Cheung, is set in a California town that has come on hard times because the local lake has gone dry, causing jobs and income to dry up with it. As a result, somewhat of an epidemic has arisen in which fathers abandon their families, leaving the town mysteriously in pursuit of better lives elsewhere. This problem has become so common in the California town that they’ve actually given a name to it: going to the Moon.
The film centers around Mickey Smalley (Jeff Wahlberg), a 16-year-old resident of the town whose father abandoned him, his mother Eva (Rashida Jones), and his younger brother Kolya (Zachary Arthur). The father is played by James Franco, who I assume was paid handsomely for appearing in the film, regardless of the fact that he probably had a total of about 5 minutes of screen time.
From the point that James Franco’s character exits the picture, nothing really happens for about an hour. Mickey and his friends get wasted in abandoned buildings. Mickey develops a romance with a girl named Sonya who lives alone. They get wasted on a trash-covered beach. There are random sequences featuring shots of the Moon and voiceovers in which the word “Moon” is said entirely too many times. Sonya’s dad comes back and Sonya moves away to Nebraska with him. Mickey gets sad, gets wasted, shags a bartender, and gets her pregnant.
It’s only after Mickey gets the bartender pregnant that it seems like a plot might actually develop in the film. But with only like 15 minutes left in the film by the time this happens, it’s unlikely.
In that 15 minutes, Mickey chooses to “go to the Moon” and abandon his unborn child. He drives across the country, runs into his Uncle John (one of the fathers who went to the Moon), thinks he sees his father outside a bar, and tries to chase down his truck on the highway.
The film ends with a shot of Mickey carrying his newborn child through the streets of the California town, implying that he returned and decided to be a good father to his child instead of abandoning it. Just before the ending credits, the audience is treated to one more unprovocative, pseudo-deep, cliched proclamation: “The Moon follows us wherever we go.”
Don’t Come Back from the Moon Analysis
Alright, first off, I understand that this was supposed to be a sort of coming-of-age film about a town in which all of the fathers abandon their families. In many ways, the plot structure mirrors other coming-of-age films like 1995’s Kids or 2018’s mid90s. Unlike those two films, Don’t Come Back from the Moon had a major problem with authenticity.
The writing was poor. The dialogue felt unnatural and forced, an effect that was furthered by the poor deliveries by many of the actors. The voiceover monologues were clearly meant to be throught-provoking and substantive but felt more like they were torn out of a “Beginner’s Guide to Astrology” book.
Also, there was almost no point during the film in which I was fully engaged. There were kids getting wasted here, kids getting wasted there, a few conversations about the experience of growing up without a father, but that theme (indeed, the central theme of the entire film) was never really discussed in depth.
When Sonya’s father returned from “the Moon,” I expected there to be some big revelation and for the plot to really pick up from there. Wrong I was, though, as that plot device came and went extremely quickly, and the film returned to the void of nothingness.
When Mickey sees his father at the end of the film, I was praying for some sort of conflict to occur, just one scene of intense drama to take away from 82 minutes of boredom. But no, in came the credits and I was left feeling like I had just wasted almost an hour and a half of my life. This film’s plotline was flatter than a dead person’s ECG.
On top of this film being utterly boring, the overtones of misogy were difficult to swallow. It really hammers home the idea that men are the breadwinners in every household and that, without men, these households are pretty much hopeless. When the fathers leave home, the children must resort to stealing scrap metal from abandoned homes to provide for their families because their mothers are apparently incapable of filling the void left by their missing fathers.
I would have liked to see at least one household in the film in which a single mother is doing a dynamite job providing for her kids all by herself, as many single mothers in real life do. But we didn’t get that.
Instead, the only adult female character we got was an alcoholic mother who cuts hair and then drinks herself to sleep. We got a town that has gone to shit because the fathers have all left, implying that a town without men would be incapable of functioning. To any single mothers out there reading this, definitely don’t watch Don’t Come Back from the Moon.