Thoroughly well scripted and well-acted. May be the greatest work to date from one of the greatest directors working.
Writer/Director Wes Anderson scores big when fantasy comes home to roost in this coming of age adventure. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman do the heavy living as Suzy and Sam; two twelve olds who decide to do the right thing no matter what the cost. In the ensuing hijinks their little town in Maine is shaken to its foundations as the governing adults are brought face to face with the, obviously, superior minds of the two pre-teens.
Drawing on themes from his previous “Rushmore” and “Bottle Rocket” (co-written with model bad boy Owen Wilson) Anderson teams up with Roman Coppola and the two produce an outstanding screenplay. Bouncing back from their previous, marginal, “Darjeeling Limited’ and the animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” this script is a return to safer “bad boy” territory where the false doctrines of adulthood can be shredded by the purity of youth. At least, that is how the story goes.
Yes, in the end it is fantasy; the dream of Never Never land where children never have to grow up and face the world of laws, cops and, yes, even worse, social services. This is a world that adults leave behind, to their discredit, so the film tells us.
The grownups would be better off to find the child inside and learn, as George Carlin puts it, the joy of digging a hole with a stick. The writers of this screenplay decry the loss of common sense and common please that signals the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Watching this film the audience can relive childhood, at least for 94 minutes.
The screenplay combines the silly, groundless expulsion of a boy far too wise for his years with a caper that is as thrilling as it is ill conceived. Having met and fallen head over heels for Suzy Bishop, Sam Shakusky, a Junior Khaki Scout, makes a plan for them both to escape to the wilds.
The first to notice is Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) who immediately organizes a search party of the remaining Khaki Scouts, none of whom liked the missing Sam, anyway. Throughout the ensuing search, Suzy scans the field with her binoculars, looking more into the hearts and minds of the robotic pursuers than at their physical bodies.
As the news spreads, the chaos compounds exponentially in a way that can only be compared to classics such as “Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” or, perhaps, “The Great Race.” In the end, each member of the staggering cast of Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban (in addition to Edward Norton) gets to have their fifteen minutes of fame. None of these great actors gets the time he or she deserves.
Everybody leaves the theatre wishing they had seen more of one or the other. However, nobody is sorry to have come.
Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman command most of the screen time and their acting is superb. Neither had any credited film experience prior to “Moonlight.”. Both are attending school in the Northeast USA and both were twelve years old when they were chosen, after months of casting auditions and re-auditions, to play the lead characters in the film. The setting of the sheriff’s office contains, of course, a typewriter. Hayward had never seen a typewriter before joining the film.
Frances McDormand had to show her how it worked. The Khaki Scouts telegraph information about the search and rescue operations, because, of course, there are no cell phones. It is a mark of the genius of Wes Anderson that he is able to take something that is trivial and turn it into something side-splittingly hilarious. Filmed in Rhode Island, the movie’s fictitious topo map gets funnier and more bizarre with every scene.
This film contain too many inside jokes, throwaway lines and kitschy props to name. Camp Ivanhoe brings to mind the story set in the twelfth century, not far removed from the original production of “Noye’s Fludde”, the play featured in and out of the film, in the early 15th century. The children’s animal masks and the ever-present raccoon cap donned by Sam harken back to pagan religions and bring out the devilish side of childhood. Gosh, we all loved those days, so innocent and yet so sinister at the same time.
The film’s 1965 setting could just as well be today. Perhaps the message is that we are still looking for the ferment of the turbulent ‘60s. Good or bad, those times were never boring. The ‘60s also saw the birth of the novel “MASH,” featuring Hawkeye Pierce, echoing the name of Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel) who is in charge of Fort Lebanon in “Moonrise.”
The sound track is an eclectic combination of the eerie, vaguely threatening, Crusades-like sound track to Noye’s Flood, set to music by Benjamin Britten, and (who else?), Hank Williams. The two form a wonderfully confused and beautiful cacophony that forms a perfect fit with the overall feel of the movie. However, the film works.
It is touching, funny and ends with a kiss and blue ink on the bottom line. A huge success for the director, writer producers (including Scott Rudin), Focus Features, Indian Paintbrush and American Empirical Pictures.
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Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward and Bruce Willis
Release Date: May 25, 2012
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking
Running Time: 94 Minutes