This quietly meditative indie sells itself on James Franco’s involvement, but truth be told, he’s only in it for a moment before he, like all the other fathers in town, disappears following the closing of the local factory. And that’s okay, since the kids who are left behind are the real story anyway. Based on a book by Dean Bakopoulos, the story centers on a group of young adults who are coming of age in a desert town on the edge of a dying lake. When their fathers abandon them, there is initially a sense of kids gone wild before they settle into the reality that they need to step up and take care of each other.
Jeffrey Wahlberg (Mark’s nephew) plays the central character, Mickey, who’s left to take care of his mom (Rashida Jones) and his younger brother after Dad (Franco) takes him out to learn to drive and ditches him at a gas station. All the kids have similar stories, and one father left a note saying, “I’m going to the moon,” behind, leading the kids to use it as shorthand for their dads’ absences. As they work their way from shock to sadness to anger to acceptance, they’re also figuring out what it means to be adults.
Don’t Come Back from the Moon definitely has indie written all over it, and narratively it’s more tone poem than straight story. It’s beautifully shot, and the performances of Wahlberg and Alyssa Elle Steinacker who plays Mickey’s girlfriend drive the story. It took me a while to embrace this world of young adults, but I was ultimately glad I did. It’s stuck with me. Check it out if you’re into that indie vibe.