Clearly our childhood experiences and sexual awakening are being mined by many filmmakers for its rich potential for humor and depth of emotions when innocence is lost as we fumble toward adulthood. These stories also expose the disillusionment with the unfair world of adults that children look up to and depended on for security and safety.
The growing number of nostalgic coming-of-age and idealistic young love comedies like Submarine (2011) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) released recently, all feature adolescent teens that are labeled as difficult or outcasts while dealing with puberty. These wonderful films, when done right, are able to deal with this delicate subject realistically with sensitivity and humor.
These types of films became popular in European cinema back in the late 60s and early 70s with such classics as Maurice Pialat’s Naked Childhood (1968) Louise Malle’s Murmur of the Heart (1971), and Waris Hussein's Melody (1971) but one of the earliest films that I remember seeing in this more recent trend goes as far back as 1996 with an independent gem called Welcome to the Dollhouse (1996) and continued with such heartfelt, feel good films as Malèna (2000), Raising Victor Vargas (2002), The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (2006), Son of Rambow (2007), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Terri (2010) and Super 8 (2011). All these films are about awkward teens or pre-teens who are struggling with their first encounters with love and sex while dealing with peers and adults.
Wes Anderson, who has made a career out of odd overachieving characters with such films as Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), has finally brought his unique sensibility and cinematic style to this much loved genre. His new film, Moonrise Kingdom, very successfully evokes the best qualities of the coming-of-age/young romance film while adding his own unique voice and style.
In the movie, a nerdy bright young orphan boy scout, who could be a precursor to Max Fischer in Rushmore, makes elaborate arrangements to run away with a local girl during a boy scout summer camp on the remote island of New Penzance off the coast of New England in 1965. Having previously met at a church function, the two romantic loners decide to secretly rendezvous and live in the wilderness, which leads to a hilarious manhunt by the local police, the entire scout camp troupe and the local residents.
This movie is really about our first awkward steps toward adulthood and how as children we role-play the relationships we see in the adult world. The love that the two young rebels feel for each other is so obsessive that they seem more mature than their age would suggest. Much like the Welsh movie Submarine, the two lovers briefly escape the controlled world of adults to freely engage in spontaneous and uninhibited courtship. But the complicated inept and precarious world of adults constantly threatens to destroy our heroes’ idealistic carefree sanctuary.
Wes Anderson’s unique child’s-eye-view style of storytelling is well suited to this type of story which feels more like an amateur stage play. In the style of a children’s play, there is a narrator that talks to the audience and explains the background history of the events we are about to see. The characters talk to each other in a stiff expressionless monotone while standing face to face, with the camera squarely placed where the audience would be. This all gives the impression of watching self-conscious amateur actors performing in a summerstock theatre play.
The music also fits in with this amateur play theme and the big action set pieces are implied, in other words, they happen off camera and we only see the aftermath, which can be quite funny since we can only imagine what must have happened, but despite this, the movie builds to a surprisingly satisfying climax.