Must watch: ‘The Moon & Back’ offers a refreshing take on coming of age films

An emotional blonde woman hugs a brunette woman wearing a pink shirt.
Young filmaker Lydia, played by Isabel May tries to make her father’s dream film a reality in “The Moon and Back.” (Courtesy: Prodigium Pictures)

For those who don’t know — even though I feel like I’ve mentioned this to everyone and their mother at this point — I am a Newport Beach Film Festival Associate Programmer. I have been working for the festival since the summer, helping to screen submitted films, research films and keep filmmakers updated on the festival.

One film that I am very excited to program this year is Leah Bleich’s coming of age film “The Moon & Back.” While helping program the film, I’ve noted the excitement and eagerness Bleich shows for the festival which is seen in “The Moon & Back.”

The film centers around Lydia Gilbert, who is still coping with the death of her father after losing him one year ago to cancer. She is lost and doesn’t know what to do with herself until she stumbles upon something unbelievable: a space opera screenplay written by her dad. Armed with a VHS camera, Lydia decides to produce her dad’s final script.

What I admire about Bleich and her work is her ability to connect with a generation of lost, quarantined young adults. While the film itself has no connection to COVID-19, the lost feeling that Lydia has been dealing with ever since her father died is something most of us can relate to — at least, I know I can.

At one point in the film, Lydia is having dinner with her mother and mother’s boyfriend George when her mom suggests she work for George at his job, saying, “Honey, you need to do something to grow, you’ve spent the last year on pause.” Feeling overwhelmed and pressured, Lydia decides to take on the challenge of producing her father’s script.

After nearly two years of online school, just like Lydia, I was lost. I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to make my family proud when I came to Claremont McKenna College. When you’re lost, it’s very easy to focus on everything you do not have.

Lydia does not have a huge movie budget — all she has is a VHS camera and a half-written script. At one point, Lydia decides to give up after enlisting the help of her fellow classmate Simon once she realizes how daunting the task of producing a film is, but Simon reminds Lydia that: “This should be exciting! The uncertainty … ahh, it should be exciting.”

Life in general is uncertain; there is no clear set path for anything until you make one. Bleich, just like thousands of other aspiring filmmakers, took a risk when producing “The Moon & Back.” She wrote the entire script on her own and submitted it to the Six Feet Apart Experiment, and that risk paid off with the feature-length narrative film slated to be shown not only in the Newport Beach Film Festival, but also the Heartland International Film Festival and the San Diego International Film Festival, to name a few.

Equipped with a star-studded cast of actors like Isabel May and Missi Pyle, a small crew and the mentoring of “Birds of Prey” director Cathy Yan, Bleich took on the impossible and spent nine days and a $50,000 budget to produce her film. For context, “Lady Bird,” a film similar in theme to Bleich’s, was produced with a $10 million budget. Bleich took $50,000 and created a masterpiece.

After students auditioned for her movie, Lydia’s guidance counselor, Mr. Martin, bestows this piece of wisdom: “In every single production there comes a moment when you think to yourself, this is impossible, and yet the cast bows and the costume’s dazzle and you think to yourself my god, my god I just participated in something magical.”

Whether it be a film production, a science experiment or anything else, there will always be a moment of doubt of your ability and work. However, just like Lydia and Leah, we look to those around us for motivation and inspiration, and we create something life changing. Just like Lydia’s mom explained to her when she was looking back at old recordings of her with her dad, “This is real life. On screen is a movie. We don’t get to sit back and enjoy our happy endings in real life. We don’t get to hit pause. We just have to keep moving and let go and hope that that happy ending isn’t our last one.”

To read a Q&A with the director, click here.

Giana Gerardino CM ’24 is one of TSL’s film columnists. She’s a media studies major with a sequence in data science and loves thriller movies, Harry Styles and Vice documentaries.

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