Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One of our khaki scouts is missing

Wes Anderon’s Moonrise Kingdom, co-written with Roman Coppola, is set in September 1965, on the New England coastal island of Penzance. An oracular figure (Bob Balaban) provides a smattering of direct-to-camera details about the island’s history before warning of a great storm that will batter Penzance before our story ends. The storm he refers to is a perfectly literal meteorological phenomenon, but he may just as well be referring to the tempestuous love affair—between two 12-year-olds—already underway as our story begins.

Bespectacled orphan and decorated Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) flees camp one morning, prompting his Scout Leader (Edward Norton) to organize a search in tandem with the island’s sole police officer (Bruce Willis). Sam arranges to rendezvous with Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), the eldest daughter of unhappily married lawyers (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), whose distinctive make-up anticipates the visage of Lana Del Rey. Sam, with his survival kit, and Suzy, with her yellow suitcase, cat in a basket, library books, binoculars, portable record player and beloved Françoise Hardy LP—at one point the couple takes an inventory, a variation on Anderson’s favourite activity, the visual list—set out to make it on their own in some hidden cove, pubescent lovers on the run in a world more bucolic but just as cloistered as that of Gerardo Naranjo’s similarly premised I’m Gonna Explode!

The kids are never annoyingly ingratiating; flat delivery is clearly the default here and works beautifully. Their stabs at adult stoicism are simultaneously funny and sincere. “Was he a good dog?” Suzy asks of a terrier accidentally killed during a melee with some fellow scouts. “Who’s to say?” replies Sam in his best Hemingway Jr. “But he didn’t deserve to die.” Likewise the more experienced and creatively, often ingeniously adult cast, among them Jason Schwartzman and  Harvey Keitel with a Civil War moustache, exude far more than their characters express openly, leaving the A-story in the kids’ capable hands while filling the margins with an almost palpable sense of melancholy.

Capitalizing on the design-everything imperative of his animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson makes every home a dollhouse, observed through tours that allow the camera to slide vertically and horizontally through walls and floors; every landscape a storybook spread, sometimes misted over to resemble old postcards, with objects looking like toys when seen from a certain distance. His use of music is typically winsome, with Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra working as a theme for kids dreaming of adult seriousness and the songs of Hank Williams becoming the theme for adults whose lives seem rife with regret and resignation. With great playfulness and narrative concision, Moonrise Kingdom weaves artifice and emotional gravity into a beautiful fable about being, to the core of one’s being, truly, hopelessly love-struck. 

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