Romeo and Juliet. Rhett and Scarlett. Clark and Lois. To the pantheon of great romantic couples, we hereby welcome Sam and Suzy, the 'tween runaways in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," the best film of the year and perhaps the purest love story in cinematic history.
Whereas most movie twosomes are adults with differing personalities, 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are soulmates from the moment they meet in the halcyon summer of '64. At a community playhouse on an island off Maine, Sam spots Suzy, and for a year they write letters comparing their lives.
Sam is an orphan in foster care and a member of the adventuresome Khaki Scouts. Suzy is the daughter of estranged parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and an avid reader of girl-powered adventure novels.
After a year, they conspire to meet in an Eden by the sea. Sam brings a canoe and a pocket knife. Suzy brings a kitten and a portable record player. While the wide-eyed would-be lovers greet each other with welcoming curiosity, their absence is slowly noticed by the island's grown-ups, including the scoutmaster (Ed Norton) and the sheriff (Bruce Willis). As enforcers search the island for the runaways, gnomish narrator Bob Balaban notes that the storm of the decade is approaching.
"Moonrise Kingdom" has a fairy-tale framework. With his coonskin cap and air rifle, Sam is a protective Peter Pan, while Suzy is Sleeping Beauty freed from her castle and ferried to a blue lagoon.
Even in a nature setting, Anderson maintains his trademark pop palette and symmetrical compositions; yet here the stylized visuals serve a story that's sweet and layered.
Willis is a standout among the adult actors, and Norton is newly likable as the lonesome scoutmaster. But the movie belongs to newcomers Gilman and Heyward, who are as frank and precocious as characters in a J.D. Salinger story.
Phonies may complain that Anderson's island of misfit toys is a retreat from the real world, but for pure-hearted adventurers who share the secret map, "Moonrise Kingdom" is a joy that cannot be eclipsed.
Four stars out of four • Rating PG-13 • Run time 1:34 • Content Sexual content • Where Tivoli Theatre