Fantasy island

A funny, romantic and magical rite of passage

Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Directed by Wes Anderson. Pageant Theatre and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 5.0

Moonrise Kingdom, the new film by Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, etc.), is a summertime comedy of an exceptionally poetic sort.

While it has a big-name cast, the chief characters are two 12-year-olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who fall in love and run away to their own little romantic paradise on the coastal island where they are spending their respective New England summer vacations.

It’s pointedly a storybook situation, and in the frisky scenario concocted by co-writers Anderson and Roman Coppola, it blossoms into a wistfully dreamy romantic comedy that also revolves around and beyond the travails and pratfalls of the various adult characters.

Sam and Suzy are a precocious pair—two gifted misfits fleeing the strictures of society and rushing into their own sweetly parodic version of adulthood. He is a bespectacled orphan who goes AWOL from Khaki Scout camp on the island to rendezvous with Suzy at a special cove. Suzy, a talented singer and voracious reader from a seriously artsy family, has a wildly rebellious streak.

Gradually, there emerges a sense that the kids are innocent versions of various adults in their lives, while the adults in part remain children amid the challenges and disappointments that life has brought them. But a buoyant comic energy prevails even as the more bittersweet themes weave themselves more prominently into the action.

The adult roles, all cast more or less against type, provide ballast for the youngsters’ fanciful love story. Bruce Willis plays the island’s good-hearted police chief. Edward Norton plays the faintly nerdy martinet in charge of the Khaki Scouts. Frances McDormand and Bill Murray play Suzy’s wildly flustered parents. Tilda Swinton does a bold caricature as a child-protection officer who identifies herself simply as “Social Services.”

But the young Gilman and Hayward are the key players in all this. Both are perfectly suited to the film’s central roles, and the deadpan directness of their respective performances is crucial to both the whimsy and the pathos in the film’s subtly pungent brand of comedy.

Plus it helps that there’s such a rich mixture of seemingly incidental detail. A hurricane is approaching the coast. Suzy’s mom, who uses a bullhorn to communicate with her family, has a yen for Willis’ police chief. Sam occasionally puffs on a corncob pipe. Suzy reads aloud from her favorite books, all of which she’s stolen from the local library. A costumed tour guide (Bob Balaban) occasionally appears to provide on-screen narration.

References to Benjamin Britten’s opera, Noye’s Fludde, recur, and the film’s assortment of offhanded allusions to culture and the arts suggest several intriguing layers of meaning.