Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom: written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola; directed by Wes Anderson; starring Jared Gilman (Sam Shakusky), Kara Hayward (Suzy Bishop), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), and Bob Balaban (Narrator) (2012): Another one of Wes Anderson’s tiny, nearly perfect miniatures, quirky as usual and humane.

The love of 12-year-olds Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop leads them to run away from home. Well, he runs away from his Khaki Scout Troop. But all this is happening on one of the small, rural islands near New York (so far as I can tell, anyway) in the mid-1960’s, and there’s a major storm rolling in.

The major players are Sam, an orphan whose foster family intends to send him back to Social Services; Suzy, a depressed outsider with a great love of reading and mascara; Police Captain Sharp, a lonely bachelor having an affair with Suzy’s mother, played by Frances McDormand; Walt Bishop, played by Bill Murray in mostly buttoned-down mode (though when he gets really angry, he goes outside with a bottle of booze and chops down a tree); the Scout Troop who mostly view Sam as an annoying outsider; and Scout Master Ward, a math teacher who has poured all his energies and enthusiasm into scouting.

There’s also a scouting jamboree taking place on a nearby island, Bob Balaban as the narrator, a dog named Snoopy, and a whole lot of canoeing and hiking and tent-pitching. Harvey Keitel makes something of a surprise appearance as the Head Scout, while Tilda Swinton appears as an officious Social Services employee who repeatedly refers to herself only as Social Services.

The whole thing plays out in that vaguely bemused Wes Anderson fashion. There are several big laughs, but the real point of these movies seems to always be the small ways in which the strangeness of the human condition is illuminated, generally without narrative judgment. There will be a climax of sorts, and some things will get resolved, but others will not be resolved. The kids, who have to carry a lot of the movie on their own, are real charmers, possessed of the deadpan seriousness that perhaps only teenagers can muster about themselves and their primary place in the world.

Much of the movie is shot in the autumnal glow of nostalgia or a Norman Rockwell painting, occasionally lit by lightning or obscured by rain. Most everyone turns out to be a decent person in the end, flaws and all. Nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Recommended.

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