By People Staff
April 09, 1984 12:00 PM

Elizabeth McGovern’s smile is the closest thing to sunshine the movies have managed in years. And she can act: just watch her in Ordinary People or Ragtime. Sean Penn, the dynamo of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Bad Boys, has already displayed an astonishing versatility. But neither has ever left so indelible a mark on an audience’s emotions as they do in this rapturous, old-fashioned love story. In a small California coastal town in 1943, Penn, a gravedigger’s son, and buddy Nicolas (Valley Girl) Cage are biding their time before joining the Marines. Cage leches after every skirt he sees, but Penn is fixated on McGovern, a newcomer he takes for a “Gatsby girl,” since she lives in a mansion. Director Richard (My Favorite Year) Benjamin handles the courtship scenes with disarming freshness. And the period details—USO dances, movie newsreels, air-raid drills—are irresistible. There is little of the ghastly nostalgia of Summer of ’42, though that 1971 hit was filmed on some of the same lovely Mendocino locations. First-time screenwriter Steve Kloves, only 23, has created plot complications (an abortion, a pool-hall fight) too archly obvious to have much bite. But his ear for dialogue is finely tuned, and Penn and McGovern make the script sound even better. Cage is also solid, and Carol (Taxi) Kane, as a local hooker, steals all her scenes. One wonders where Kane finds her customers in such a doggedly decent town. But Racing With the Moon is so puppy-dog likable you go along with it. The new production team of Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing (former president of 20th Century-Fox) is off to a quality start; their first film has a plaintive richness that sticks in the memory and the heart. (PG)