One of the most charming films I've seen in the last decade is this bittersweet look at adulthood and adolescence by Wes Anderson. Like one of his other popular films, "Rushmore" (1996), this one is centered around a bright young boy (Sam) who is highly creative and doesn't quite fit in with others. Anderson's penchant for eccentric characters and slightly off-kilter views of adults interacting with kids while dealing with their own latent immaturity has only improved since that film. Edward Norton steals all the scenes he's in as a scout leader who only considers his full-time work as a middle school math teacher to be ancillary to his Khaki Scout life is a particular standout.
He is currently on a Summer Camp outing as a Khaki Scout, which is a send up of the boy's groups which try and emulate the spirit of military and Native American culture with a pastiche of both.
Sam is an orphaned eleven year old boy who has exhausted the good graces of his foster parents and his fellow Khaki scouts. In particular a nasty boy named "Redford" who wants to track him down apparently dead or alive.
The film has a flashback that explains the situation. Months earlier, while attending a church play depicting the story of Noah and the Ark, Sam is smitten by Suzy, a girl of the same age. Her parents do not approve of their associating.
They write letters back and forth to their respective boarding schools. Both see in each other a kindred and rebellious spirit. So they decide to run away to another part of the island they are situated on, away from parents, teachers, sheriffs, scout masters and any posse of young toughs who want to track them down.
The small New England island town in the film seems not quite tethered to reality, rather like a later Fellini film such as "Amacord" (1973) or Ethan and Joel Coen's "O Brother, Where Art Thou" (2000) where magical things just happen and nobody really needs to stop the fun to explain why.
The adults (Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand) all play characters who have own personal problems to sort through--adultery being a major distraction, but it's not treated in a melodramatic way-- so there is a good deal going on here all at once.
The main events of the story happen just as a sudden storm is about to hit the coastal islands.
The film is set in 1965, but it is decidedly not a work of nostalgia . I believe it is placed in this time because they were still using rather primitive psychological methods on children who didn't fit in well with groups. Electro-shock methods are mentioned. A highly-regimented orphanage seems to be in his future.
The movie works well because it is both fantastic about the little woodland small town world this is created and knowing that there is a larger world out there that these children in a few years will have to "run away" towards rather than from in becoming adults. A few days hiding out, reading and swimming and exploring the first tender feelings of attraction to the opposite sex just might be the highlight of their lives.
Bruce Willis ... Captain Sharp
Edward Norton ... Scout Master Ward
Bill Murray ... Walt Bishop
Kara Hayward ... Suzy
Jared Gilman ... Sam
Jason Schwartzman ... Cousin Ben
Tilda Swinton ... Social Services
Frances McDormand ... Laura Bishop