Sam: So… what do you want to be when you grow up?
Suzy: I don’t know. I want to go on adventures, I think. Not get stuck in one place. How about you?
Sam: Go on adventures, too. Not get stuck, too. Anyway, we can’t predict the exact future.
Suzy: That’s true.
The romantics tend to imbue children with uncanny wisdom — and Wes Anderson’s newest screwball comedy, Moonrise Kingdom, is definitely romantic.
Two precocious teenagers discover in each other a kindred spirit, and conspire to run away, into the wild — not exactly very far, as they happen to be on an island. And not for long, as their tidy little society determinedly seeks them out before a destructive storm breaks loose.
Sam (rejected orphan boy) and Suzy (belligerent “problem child”) are not so much escaping from their flawed authority figures and hostile peers, or the stigma of being cast as “emotionally disturbed” or “troubled,” as they are escaping to somewhere: a place they discover for themselves, a place where they can be themselves, a place where they are wanted. Their own little kingdom.
What is most striking about these two is their confidence in each other, a confidence borne from a simple exchange of letters (and artwork from Sam) tapping into a well of emotional support — no judgment, just complete acceptance and honesty.
Resourceful Sam (Jared Gilman) orchestrates the breakaway from civilization, and pretty much runs the show, but consistently includes Suzy (Kara Hayward) in the decision-making. Not without his vulnerabilities, Sam also candidly tells Suzy in advance that he may “wet the bed” and would not want to offend her; Suzy immediately reassures rather than belittles him.
The book-loving Suzy, who has a difficult relationship with her family, posits in a flight of fancy that she’d rather be an orphan like most of her favorite characters. “I think your lives are more special,” she tells Sam. To which the ever-straightforward boy replies, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” A bit taken-aback, but without rancor, Suzy rejoins, “I love you too.”
Age is a handicap rather than an advantage in this story. It prevents the two from being left to their own devices.
Yet the teenagers are more secure in their relationship than Suzy’s mismatched passion-less parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), or the sad-eyed bachelor cop that the mother is having an affair with (Bruce Willis). They seem more imperturbable as squatters protected from the elements by a mere pup tent, than the well-meaning scout master-slash-Math-teacher (Edward Norton) in his regimented camp. And certainly they have more feeling than the paper-pushing lady from social services (Tilda Swinton).
Set in New England circa 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is quite a pretty picture. There is very little to detract from the mood of the piece, which recalls us to a — for lack of a better adjective — “simpler” time wherein a few days’ camping can be an adventure and it was quite possible to imagine oneself isolated.
There is a heightened sense of danger (the storm) even as one is led to believe that the ingenious children can competently care for themselves without adult supervision. There is drama (and much comedy) in discovery, escape, and rediscovery, followed by another daring escape. There is character growth, not just in the two leads, but the surrounding characters embroiled in their unsanctioned romance. There is death (literal) and rebirth (figurative). And the resolution makes us, who have been rooting for these star-crossed teenage lovers to have a happy ending, feel all warm and fuzzy.
I tend to be wary of films easily described as “poignant,” “whimsical” and “nostalgic,” but this one, is perfectly made (with thanks to the powerhouse cast, including Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman, for maintaining the illusion).
In my estimation, it’s the best film Wes Anderson has made to date. I was only mildly amused by The Darjeeling Limited, disappointed by the much-hyped The Royal Tenenbaums, and underwhelmed by Rushmore, but this one I kinda fell in love with.