For electrical engineer Al Fountain (John Turturro), a rigid control freak affectionately dubbed "Mr. Clockwork" by his wife, time is something to be precisely measured, parceled out, then used in the most efficient manner possible. With ramrod-straight posture, clipped speech, an eye for minutiae and a closet full of generic white-collar wear, Al exists as a corporate drone, a "robot."
A feared father and a despised boss, Al wants desperately to be liked, but not at the expense of his exalted sense of order. As writer-director Tom DiCillo makes clear in his luminous third film, Box of Moonlight, Al is overdue for a meltdown.
Just before its scheduled completion, the project Al is supervising in Knoxville, Tenn., is suddenly shelved. With no work to regiment his time and too much pride to admit failure and return early to his family in Chicago, he rents a car and hits the road for the Fourth of July weekend.
Al goes to revisit the scene of a happy childhood vacation, but encounters something even better: the adult embodiment of a kid's id. Dressed in Davy Crockett gear and living in a kitsch-strewn trailer compound, the Kid (Sam Rockwell) is a post-hippie Puck who treasures both freedom and mischief. He becomes Al's guide to an alternate universe where anarchistic impulses are indulged and guilt-free pleasure rules supreme.
The central performances by Rockwell and Turturro -- who shows the fear beneath Al's stubborn rigidity -- manage to be both offbeat and deeply felt, as oddball and endearing as the faux fawn that Kid has strategically placed in a secluded glade.
Box of Moonlight is a long way from the studied cool and urban settings of DiCillo's previous films, Johnny Suede (1991) and Living in Oblivion (1995). But his deadpan sense of humor and quirky aesthetics are still very much present, keeping Box of Moonlight from falling into treacly, life-affirming sentimentality.
In Box of Moonlight, Tom DiCillo beautifully captures a specific summer feeling, when a dive into cool water can reawaken a somnambulist to the possibilities of the world around him.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.