(Wes Anderson, 2012)
With his seventh film, Wes Anderson finds the perfect story and setting for his singular style and sensibility.
The result is a magical comic fairytale, shot through with his familiar deadpan melancholy and ably performed by a game, starry cast.
The two leads, however, are young unknowns. They are Sam Shakusky (Jared Gillman), a young orphan who falls in love with Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) while based with his Khaki Scout troop on the Island of New Penzance, off the coast of New England in Summer 1965. Names - the names of characters, places, even labels and brands - are crucial in the symphony Wes Anderson creates in each of his films, adding detail and a precise texture to his world which feels quite unlike any other.
Here that world is largely seen through the prism of typically intense Anderson children. Both principals are outsiders, both serious, both sad. They become penpals and resolve to run away from unhappy family lives together, and what follows is a lovely natural idyll, with shades of Badlands in it's scenes of a young couple creating their own little world in a natural setting.
The adult world our couple are fleeing is represented in the form of Suzy's attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) whose marriage is falling apart, partly due to her affair with the Island Sheriff (Bruce Willis). Then there is Sam's Scout Master (Edward Norton), struggling to control his troupe. This side of the story is suffused in sadness, which comes in scenes where their complex adult problems are revealed in their faces and conversations. These are lonely people, their exchanges and small, everyday agonies contrasted with those of Sam and Suzy. They too will probably end up as sorrowful as their elders, Anderson seems to say, if they are denied the understanding and love they have found with one another.
That much might be enough - this may be the directors most moving, emotional film, the aching nostalgia and feeling for childhood's end adding to that - but there are also a few dozen great comic ideas here typical of Anderson. The scout troupe, run like an army, offers great dry comedy and a series of lovely visual gags. Bob Balaban pops up as a narrator offering context and portentousness, Tilda Swinton steps straight out of a Powell & Pressburger film as the blue-clad "Social Services", and Anderon's use of music (largely Hank Williams and Benjamin Britten here) is as superb as ever.
Best of all, much of the film is shot on location, meaning that it's somewhat looser than Anderson's usual approach allows; Mother Nature resists the control evident in his miss en scene. Instead there are lovely landscapes and shots which make the most of the possibilities of the forest and the ocean.
It all hangs together with impeccable style and no little emotional weight, suggesting, for all that his detractors insist that Anderson has to grow up, that he is at his finest and most natural when he is addressing childhood, as he does here.