I find it hard if not impossible to explain quite why this is such a wonderful film – though I shall try – but just take it from me, this is a movie with a heart as big as a bus, despite, or because of, its offbeat nature.
Let's deal with the story first, although it is not necessary to worry too much about that. Sam is 12 years old, an orphan with unloving foster parents, and a member of the Khaki Scouts, led by Edward Norton. Suzy is also 12, the oldest child of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand (with three younger brothers). The pre-teens meet, exchange letters and plan to run away together, to the consternation of parents, scoutmaster and the local policeman, Bruce Willis, who is softhearted and having an affair with Frances McDormand. Did I mention that the year is 1965, and that we are told at the beginning of the film by narrator/weatherman Bob Balaban that there is an almighty storm coming in three days?
That's probably all you need to know, although I should tell you about Social Services (Tilda Swinton), who is the most unsympathetic character in the film. Everyone else is – at heart – a softie. In fact, the central relationship between Sam and Suzy might be one of the most romantic 12 year old love affairs in contemporary cinema, even more tender than in Let The Right One In, and with not a vampire to be seen. What we do see is a private idiosyncratic world into which the real world hardly intrudes – it is significant that the film takes place on an island without access except by ferry and plane. Nothing is downright weird, but most things are a little odd. It would be tedious and pointless to go into detail; one of the joys of the film is picking up on all the visual and verbal references which litter the film.
But whereas in the hands of a more self-important director these details might be pretentious and annoying, this is not the case here. Inevitably, comparisons will be made with other Wes Anderson films, which is hardly surprising since all of his films are so distinctively of a kind, so for what it's worth, I will just say that along with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, it is one of the best Wes films so far (he's still on the young side). All of the colour schemes, plot absurdities, soundtrack quirks, and design peculiarities are all have one goal – heartfelt emotion. Not sentimentality or soppiness, but a real sense of love and connection. Which are not as easy to achieve as you might think.
A final word about the cast. The two kids are outstanding, but Bruce Willis shows how good he is when he's not being Bruce Willis; Edward Norton has his best role in ages; while Murray and McDormand make a sadly plausible couple out of love with each other and their own selves. In essence, there's nothing I can say to persuade you to want to go and see this film. If you're not already an Anderson fan, it may be too late. But if you're willing to take a step into the unknown, then give yourself a treat and go to the kingdom.
By Phil Raby
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