Imagine having a sweet, beautiful dream about being back in summer camp after 6th grade. Then the dream distorts and frightens, but never quite becomes a nightmare. That may give you some sense of the latest alternate universe Wes Anderson creates in Moonrise Kingdom, his wondrous new movie of a long ago New England summer.
The story is simple. A boy at an island camp, picked on by the others, runs away to rendezvous with a girl he met when she was in a local church play. Sam is an orphan, oddly old for his age with signature black-rim glasses and a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. Suzy has found the book "How to Deal With a Seriously Troubled Child" on top of the 'frig and wants to run away from home. Their kindred woes convince them they are in love, and they take off across the island on an old Indian migration path, looking for escape.
They are also united by their clipped way of speaking, as if they are trying on adulthood for the first time and finding it an awkward fit.
Suzy: "Was he a good dog?" Sam: "Who's to say?"
Sam: "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."
The promotions for the movie feature the big stars: Bill Murray as Suzy's dad in various patch-madras pants; Frances McDormand, Suzy's mom in Lilly shifts; Ed Norton, the smoking scoutmaster; Tilda Swinton as "Social Services," proving again that she can and will play any role; and Bruce Willis, the local policeman bumbling through the search for the missing kids, while carrying on an affair with the mom.
But these are not much more than glorified cameos. The movie is about the two 12-year olds, and they carry it beautifully - Jared Gilman as Sam, the nerdy orphan, and Kara Hayward as the very serious and very determined Suzy. They sweep you up in their budding romance, as they race across the island with a hurricane approaching.
The dream-like atmosphere is pervasive. One of the most memorable scenes shows the kids discussing their marriage plans (!) in a long shot across a field, as a boy jumps out of a window onto a trampoline with the storm threatening. The dialogue often feels like a poem set to wildly contrasting music - the beautiful symphonies of Benjamin Britten interspersed with the gritty, country-western songs of Hank Williams. You will love when they camp out on the beach and dance in their underwear next to the water.
And for the benefit of my Watch Hill readers: one of the final shots of the movie is the Ocean House from East Beach!