Young love earns keys to ‘Kingdom’
The road to romance: Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Updated: June 6, 2012 4:26PM
★ ★ ★ 1/2
For the most part, the films of idiosyncratic auteur Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic,” “The Darjeeling Express”) are whimsical, somewhat bitter stories of adults who haven’t quite left childhood behind — and find the grown-up world a bit of a disappointment.
One of the great charms of the lovely, and considerably less acrimonious, “Moonrise Kingdom” is that it is primarily the tale of two love-struck ‘tweens who literally can’t wait to grow up. They take themselves, and their one true romance, and the greater world of grown-up grand passions very seriously indeed.
There are sad, disappointed adults aplenty in “Moonrise,” (nicely portrayed by the likes of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray). But they serve here as a melancholy (and emotionally honest) contrast to the young lovers’ assumptions about what’s to come, just as the not-quite-children serve as poignant reminders of their elders’ early days of pre-disillusionment.
In all other respects, in terms of its dream-like visual style, its hyper-intelligent, deadpan dialogue, its eccentric characterizations and its general air of “once-upon-a-time” fairy-tale story-telling, “Moonrise” is a prime example of Anderson pursuing his personal vision. That should come as good news for admirers (who savor the director’s quirky individuality) while annoying detractors, who find those same quirks mannered and superficial. Either way, you’ll know what to expect.
Twelve-year-old Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both excellent) fall in love at first sight one summer in 1964, when Sam wanders backstage during a church concert in which the participating kids are dressed as assorted flaura and fauna and encounters young Suzy dressed as a raven.
An officious matron hustles him away, but Sam, it turns out, is not easily discouraged. And neither is Suzy. Both are bright, intensely serious, friendless kids. Both are considered problem children in general and the phrase “emotionally disturbed” is applied to each early on. And, when you consider how quick Suzy is to puncture another kid’s kidney with a pair of scissors in a heated moment, there may be something to it in her case.
However, that disconcerting grownup-world label has little bearing on the magic days Sam and Suzy share in “Moonrise Kingdom.” Sam, an orphan who feels misunderstood by his latest set of foster parents, and Suzy, the disaffected oldest child of a pair of emotionally-distant married attorneys (Murray and McDormand), bare their souls in an increasingly passionate series of love letters, before arranging to run away together when Sam returns to Khaki Scout camp on the New England island where Suzy lives.
Meanwhile, a whopping big hurricane gathers force off the island.
And that, in essence, is what “Moonrise Kingdom” is all about, plot-wise. Though there are also complicating side-stories, economically (but satisfactorily) handled. One concerns the love affair between Suzy’s mom and Captain Sharp (Willis, at his best), the “sad dumb policeman” who heads the island’s police force and its effect on Suzy’s frustrated, despairing father.
Another follows the spiritual crisis of Sam’s nice-guy martinet scoutmaster (Norton, as you’ve never seen him), who has devoted his life to the Khakis and is genuinely anguished when Sam disappears, and when he learns that the boy may very well be consigned to a “juvenile rehabilitation” home when found.
Of course, it’s a foregone conclusion that Sam and Suzie will be found, with Sam’s parents, Captain Sharp, a low-flying reconnaissance plane and a troop of grimly determined Khaki Scouts scouring the small island. That’s far from the end of the story, however.
Would Romeo and Juliet be deterred by Khaki Scouts? Especially if the Khaki Scouts had a second-act change of heart? Well, that’s for Shakespeare to worry about.
Anderson makes it plain that, having literally fought their way to paradise in the little inlet they rename Moonrise Kingdom, and especially after having French-kissed and danced the frug in their underwear on the beach, his young lovers have no intention of betraying their pre-teen union of souls.
Especially not if the grown-ups say it’s a bad idea.