Dir. Wes Anderson. U.S. 2012.

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Within the limits of comic fantasy, Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, evokes a time when the simple experience of being alive filled us with wonder. Though Moonrise Kingdom is offbeat as only a Wes Anderson film can be, the expression of his individual style, whether it's called “miniaturist”, “quirky” or something else, is a sincere and heartfelt counter to the homogenized product emanating from the Hollywood assembly line. Co-written by Roman Coppola and set on an island in New England in 1965, the film opens at Camp Ivanhoe where the Khaki Scouts are subject to their morning inspection by earnest Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).

It seems as if the Scouts are up to funny stuff such as building tree houses higher than the nearest angel. As the moving camera follows Ward on his daily routine, he discovers that 12-year-old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), an orphan who lives with his foster parents and has been labeled as “emotionally disturbed,” has “flown the coop.” We find out that he has run away with young Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), another unhappy camper who lives on the East Coast island of New Penzance in an upper-middle class home with her three younger brothers and two attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). In a panning shot, the camera catches the Bishops in separate rooms as if each is living in their own universe, the mother communicating with her family by the use of a bullhorn.

As shown in flashback, Sam and Suzy met a year ago when he barges into the girls dressing room during a school play and they have been writing letters to each other ever since, meticulously planning a ten-day run away to a remote part of the island. Though it is hard to see the attraction of a precocious (though expressionless) young woman who loves to read books to a smallish, young boy with thick glasses and a speech impediment, what people see in each other at any age, more often than not, does not fit our pictures.

When the two fulfill their dream and find an isolated beach area known only as "Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet," they are pursued by a search team that includes Suzy's parents, the Scout Master (Norton) and his commanding officer (Harvey Keitel), the local police captain (Bruce Willis) who is having an affair with Suzy's mother, an-over the top Tilda Swinton, known only as Social Services, cousin Ben, a scam artist dressed as a scout (Jason Schwartzman), and Sam's deputized fellow scouts who eventually redirect their energies towards supporting Sam. With an approaching hurricane, everything that Sam has learned about wilderness survival will be put to the test in a very busy whirlwind finish.

Moonrise Kingdom is not only played for laughs, though there are plenty of them. It also expresses a longing that may strike a responsive chord with those who have ever felt the sting of being different and isolated from others. Sam and Suzy's relationship is recognizably childlike without being marred by sentimentality or excessive cuteness, and we can believe that they love each other. When Suzy tells Sam that the idea of being an orphan is so appealing and romantic, with adult honesty he tells her “I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about.” Wes Anderson knows what he is talking about and Moonrise Kingdom is an affirmation of childhood that, in an age of cynicism and uber-technology, reminds us all of what we may have forgotten.


Howard Schumann

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