Director Wes Anderson supposedly styled this tale of eloping twelve year olds after elements of his own youth, and that comes as the film’s motif; about children, made by adults, and for adults.
It’s not a film that would connect with anyone of the age of its principle characters (don’t be fooled by its 12A rating, either), but for adults and anyone willing to laugh at the sincerity with which prepubescent’s go about their business, this is a lovely film with bags of charm, heart, and laugh out loud moments.
Set in the 60’s on a New England island for no real reason, we follow orphaned Troop 55 Scout Sam, (in his farewell letter to the troop, he writes ‘I doubt I’ll be missed’, and he’s right) and sister to three young brothers Suzy, as they escape their pushy parents to live an idyllic life on a small cove on the other side of their island. It also concerns the hunt of Troop, led by neurotic Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton displaying his vastly underused talents), to find them. All while this is going on, a storm is brewing that threatens to destroy the island and ruin the children’s chances of happiness.
However, this is also a study of your typical Wes Anderson quirky characters, and so we get a look-in into the lives of the parents of Suzy (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), as well as the solitary police officer of the island, Captain Sharp (played with perfect world-weariness by Bruce Willis). There’s also an ambiguous narrator with a red coat, played by Bob Balaban.
And that’s the kind of film this is; slight, easy to be cynical about, and very typical of Anderson. But within that it does generate lots of laughs (Bill Murray proclaiming that he is going to chop down a tree is funnier than it should be). Through its tired and weary set of characters, we are allowed what feels like a genuine insight into what happens when seclusion sets into a small community. And in its riotous squabbling between the adults, we are even allowed to take away some sort of small message; that it doesn’t get any easier with adulthood, that adults can often be the most immature, and that through children you can learn to be a better person.
It also feels like the most condensed version of Anderson’s style we’ve seen before. This has everything; the fancy font for the titles, the use of music that you probably haven’t heard of, pervasive melancholy, black comedy, dysfunctional families, and Bill Murray being Bill Murray. I am not the biggest fan of Anderson’s work (I thought the Royal Tenenbaums was bland and stale tosh), but here everything seems to fall into place and run almost seamlessly, a distillation of everything the man has come to be known for.
The two twelve year old leads, played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, are perfect in their roles, and are what make the film. Playing wise-beyond-their-years without ever coming across as annoying or unbelievable, they are the glue that holds this film together, the joinery that connects the characters, the catalyst for the genuine charm that comes in the final act.
It’s a small film, and not one that is likely to be remembered as anything more than quite nice, but over its sparse running time you slowly come to care a little bit about these people. It’s a pleasant comedy that doesn’t outstay its welcome and has true heart and some very funny scenes.