Between superheroes fighting super egos with over-the-top special effects and men in unitards trying to keep the world safe from evil, it's difficult to hark to a story where an audience can root for puppy love to triumph against natural disasters and grown-ups' obstacles. With our high-tech sophistication and jaded and decadent imaginations, we don't expect Hollywood to mix nostalgia and idealism in a movie with smaller-than-life-size characters. But it can happen.
If "Girls," the HBO hit sitcom, is the voice of a generation of unhappy men and women in their 20s who live the promiscuous life bequeathed to them through privilege, education and liberation, "Moonrise Kingdom," from independent movie director Wes Anderson, recalls lost innocence that links us to the past in a fresh way.
It's a fantasy with Hollywood stars that says we can still believe in the power of young love. Touching and tender emotions can, too, survive in a time suffocated by "sophistication." It's the cinematic pause that refreshes, a momentary summer escape from health care debates and tales of gun-running to Mexico.
Soon enough, we'll have to settle in and take campaign rhetoric as seriously as we must. "Moonrise Kingdom" is the microcosm that magnifies the smaller emotions easily forgotten in the larger world where politics and culture smother sentiment, and encourage the young to grow up too fast, imitating the worst values of the generation preceding them.
The movie evokes what might happen if Huckleberry Finn and a very young Jane Eyre were recast as Romeo and Juliet, who cut out for the territory with only immaturity and passion for each other to guide them. Or better, they're a pre-teen Adam and Eve who get a brief second chance to get it right.
The movie carries a PG-13 label, but it's not written for children so much as about the rest of us when we were young. In fact, some of the 13-year-olds I saw it with found it a trifle icky when the boy and girl kiss and dance on the beach in their nether garments. But grown-ups watching the world through the moviemaker's lens can reflect on their own lost innocence, and rue the way the culture has speeded the attention spans of children.
Conservatives who rail at a world gone down hill since the '60s ought to revel in how the main characters, Suzy and Sam, the two 12-year-olds, retrieve the bourgeois values, such as how love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. Wes Anderson has been labeled the king of quirkiness, and his movies attract a cult following well outside the mainstream.
This Anderson movie is no exception, but it revives appreciation for the kind of things usually mocked in the media. The Boy Scouts, for example, are shown here learning life skills that are the stuff of survival. Even the bad seeds ultimately find a way to apply these skills on behalf of their better angels.
It's difficult to be sentimental about matrimony today (unless you're gay), but this movie celebrates a youthful idealism that wants to counter and correct an older generation's failures. The pre-teens find romance in miniature before the prurient jade their perceptions. Sam brings Suzy a handpicked bouquet of wild flowers, and she carries a suitcase filled with books to read aloud to him in the evening. Together, they find an island kingdom where time stops, at least until grown-ups who have botched their lives ultimately find them.
The home life of Suzy, whose parents don't have a clue how to "parent," leads her to wish she were an orphan. Sam, whose parents are dead and who is abandoned by the latest in a sad succession of foster families, tells Suzy, emphatically with the wisdom of experience, "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."
Hurricanes swirl around them on the island where they pitch their tent, lightning strikes more than once, and maybe they won't live happily ever after. But they have their moment to shine in an unadulterated world, and in the darkness of a movie theater, so do we.