I wasn't able to schedule a cinema visit when this sweet movie was released some six weeks ago, but managed to catch up with it in repertory at the Prince Charles. Although his output has hardly been prolific, I have really liked the films (with the possible exception of "The Darjeeling Limited" which was just a bit too twee, even for me) of the Texas-born auteur Wes Anderson -- not to be confused with the Newcastle-born hack Paul W. S. Anderson. His output is quite probably insufficiently action-filled for contemporary tastes, but his individuality and sly humour shine in films like "The Royal Tenenbaums", "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", and even the stop-motion "Fantastic Mr. Fox".
This fable of childhood is set on the mythical Cape Cod island of New Penzance in 1965, some four years before Anderson himself was actually born; yet it is intended, I am sure, to recapture the feelings and emotions of adolescence as he himself remembers it. The main protagonists, young teens Sam and Suzy, portrayed by Jared Gilman and Kaya Hayward, both making their big screen debuts, carry the picture and the A-list supporting cast are not actually given a great deal to do. Sam is an orphan being raised by a foster family and is spending his second summer camping on the island with the 'Khaki Scouts'. Suzy, whom he first saw at a church performance of "Noye's Fludde" a year before, is the eldest child of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, an intellectual but unloving couple. Suzy rattles around in their big house, alienated from her three much-younger close and clone-like brothers, and listens to Francoise Hardy while reading gothic literature. She and Sam decide they are in love and arrange to run away together. They follow an old Indian trail and find the idyllic, untrodden Moonrise cove of the title, where they establish their camp for the three days they are on the run. Suzy's parents insist that she must have been abducted and the search is on led by lonely local police chief Bruce Willis and scout-leader Edward Norton with his pack of young charges (none of whom can stand Sam). However when the young lovers are caught and separated, the scouts decide to support the pair's escapade, just as a mighty storm approaches the island, along with 'Social Services' in the form of Tilda Swinton who is flying in to take Sam to an orphanage (after his anti-social behaviour has alienated his foster family). Needless to say, all eventually ends satisfactorily, even after the young couple go through an illegal marriage ceremony performed by another scout-leader on a neighbouring island. All of this may sound a little convoluted and contrived, but believe me when I tell you, that it all falls sweetly into place, without over-stretching one's credibility. I could however have done without Anderson's killing off a cute little dog in the melee.
Despite the high-powered cast names mentioned above, there are also roles for Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, and Jason Schwarzman. However none of them, with the possible exceptions of Willis and Norton -- both very likeable here -- make much impact. No doubt Bill Murray is in the cast as Anderson's 'lucky charm' since he has been a 'given' since 1998's "Rushmore"; however he is not asked to demonstrate much other than his usual laid-back charm. Harking back to the trauma in his own life when his parents divorced, Anderson seems to be trying to recapture both the innocence and passions of childish dreams and possibly his own remembered formative years; his two young leads do all the work for him.
The film is quirky and poignant, mercifully short and very bittersweet -- a slight trifle full of yearning and nostalgia. Anderson's regular composer Alexandre Desplat makes good use both of "Noye's Fludde" (forecasting the impending storm) and "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" in creating the compelling background score to this fantasy of a child's memories.