On an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, a young boy (Jared Gilman) and girl (Kara Hayward) fall in love and decide to run away together, leading to the creation of numerous search parties in their honour.

A delightful old-school love letter to young romance.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom (the meaning of the title is only made clear at the very end of the film) provides a primer on wilderness survival skills. It is also an excellent introductory guide to another aspect of life – but you must, I repeat, must, remain seated though the closing credits.

Anderson's seventh film is a tale of first love and its blazing intensity. It depicts, with deadpan humour, a state of mind in which all of one's actions – even if one is only 12 years old like protagonists Suzy and Sam – flow from the simple, inalterable evidence that "We're in love and we just want to be together – what's wrong with that?", as Suzy Bishop says to her mother (Frances McDormand). If Suzy seems self-possessed and broodingly bright, it might have something to do with actress Kara Hayward, who, her official biography states, "has been a member of Mensa since the age of nine."

We get the lay of the land – literally – from an onscreen narrator played with science-geek relish by Bob Balaban. The action takes place in the fetchingly named island of New Penzance – where there are no paved roads – and a neighbouring isle.

It is 1965 and scouting is all the rage. Scout Master Ward (Edward
Norton) runs a no-nonsense troop. The boys under his responsibility are used to his stern but fair approach. You can practically see their intrepid characters taking shape under his tutelage.

Elsewhere on the island, husband and wife lawyers Mr. (Bill Murray) and Mrs. Bishop live with their 4 children: 3 young boys and one 12-year-old girl, the aforementioned Suzy.

Suzy is headstrong and ornery. Her favourite song is sung in French.
She spends a lot of time peering through a pair of binoculars. She literally has her sights set on Troop 55's least-liked scout, Sam.


A 'One Year Earlier’ flashback illustrates the moment Suzy and Sam first laid eyes on each other.

Suzy enjoys every material comfort. Sam, we learn, is an orphan. They form an instant family with only two members. And we root for them as they run away together. The narrator has told us that three days hence, an epic storm will whip its way across the island.

Watch: Wes Anderson talks 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Bruce Willis plays Captain Sharp, the cop "in a one-car town" as Bill Murray put it at the press conference in Cannes where Moonrise Kingdom opened the 65th Film Festival. Sharp endeavours to find Sam, who has snuck away from camp, leaving behind a letter of resignation from the Khaki Scouts. In short order, Captain Sharp is called upon to find Suzy, who is also missing. And eventually, all of Troop 55 is on their trail.

This jaunty romp, written by Anderson with Roman Coppola, is a delightful succession of sombre pronouncements and sight gags in the service of a tale with a bittersweet emotional core. Anderson's rigorously quirky style is as pronounced as it's ever been and meshes very nicely with the year 1965. In the mid-'60s, as in the years before then, people had not yet abdicated certain tasks to machines. So it is that letters are written on paper and posted in actual envelopes with stamps on them. In the absence of cell phones (the island has an old-fashioned switchboard and, for that matter, an old-fashioned switchboard operator) and GPS gizmos, you need to be able to read a map to get where you're going. Kids make their own entertainment by running around outdoors, taking part in pageants and plays, playing board games or (gasp) reading books. The film celebrates the power and beauty of real objects – there is nary a virtual experience to be had.

Newcomer Jared Gilman as Sam is a revelation. He is forthright and effortlessly funny, wearing a coonskin cap and holding a corncob pipe between his teeth like a miniature Jean-Paul Sartre or Georges Simenon. You get the feeling he could grow up to play the part Bob Balaban plays. And that is excellent news for filmgoers of the future.

Remember, stay through the closing credits.


Watch 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Saturday 21 August, 6:45pm on SBS World Movies
Saturday 22 August, 6:10am on SBS World Movies
Sunday 23 August, 1:35pm on SBS World Movies

(NOTE: No SBS On Demand catchup)

USA, 2012
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Lucas Hedges, Tilda Swinton

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