There's a million and one loud stupid movies crowding for your attention this year, but something with genuine charm, wit, and insight gets stuck in 4 theaters nationwide prior to being dumped on cable / on-demand / DVD+Blu-Ray. If you're familiar with Wes Anderson's work, Moonrise Kingdom is another delightful film from him.  If you're not, here's a wonderful introduction.

The story takes place in 1965, the plot is an interesting inversion of Romeo and Juliet.  Troubled pre-teens Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) scheme to runaway together on the small New England island of New Penzance.  Their chaste elopement is soon discovered by her parents, his "Khaki Scouts" troop[1], and the local authorities, who promptly go bonkers attempting to track down the young would-be lovers.

...and the twist is they catch 'em about halfway through the film!

But the twist on the twist is that after that, his troop, the local island cop, and eventually even her own parents realize it would be more harmful to the young pair to deny them a chance at happiness together, regardless of the odds facing them.[2]

As I said, the film takes Romeo and Juliet and twists the story around.  The feuding families of the original now co-operate, first in tracking them down then in helping them find happiness.  The nurse of the original play, an ally of Juliet's, now becomes an implacable antagonist.  The priest, Romeo's ally, is now a sleazy camp counselor-cum-chaplain who marries the pair in a tent.

There are layers upon layers of secrets and import through the film, which takes cliched melodramatic tropes and delivers them with a delicious deadpan worthy of Dragnet, thus sucking the irony right out of them and giving them an almost poetic / philosophical weight.

There is a surprising innocence in this film, which probably comes as a surprise to some.  I saw this film with my wife, Soon-ok, and a female family friend.  Soon-ok and our friend were both uncomfortable with a scene where Sam and Suzy make out in their runaway camp on the beach.

But the scene is played without any real erotic tension.  Sam and Suzy do love one another and do care deeply for each other, but they perform their brief kissing and caressing less with a sense of romantic urgency than an almost dutiful obligation to follow through on the cultural norms they've been exposed to in books and films.

Soon-ok and our friend thought they lacked real innocence and were acting too grown-up, but that was precisely the point:  They were kids who were acting grown-up! The characters in the film deliberately adopt toy-like markers of adult responsibility -- a souvenir corncob pipe, a BB-gun in lieu of a real rifle, a mini-canoe instead of a real one.

I was 12 in 1965 and this film rings very true re my recollections of what my own burgeoning sexuality was like.  I knew something was going on and I knew I liked it, but I couldn't have correctly identified it for you for love or money, much less known what to do with it.  It only a few years to turn vague stirrings into very concrete ideas and desires, but at age 12 I was like the proverbial car-chasing pooch:  I wouldn't have known what to do if I had caught one.

So I recommend this film highly and urge you to make an effort to see it, if not in theaters then on video. It deserves a better fate than the one it's getting.




[1]  Obviously they weren't able to cut a deal with the Boy Scouts of America to use their names or trademarked logos.

[2]  That's not really a spoiler because the manner in which it happens is funny and inventive and besides this ain't the kinda movie that's gonna slip you an unhappy ending.

Kara Hayward

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