Nothing could be more appropriate than using Leonard Bernstein’s performance—with the venerable New York Philharmonic—of Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra as the musical centrepiece of director/co-writer Wes Anderson’s (along with Roman Coppola) tale of two from the different amongst us finding themselves and never letting go—backed by the extraordinary knowledge of his art but also managing to truly be himself despite the generally hostile reception of gays and lesbians in his day: little was overtly acknowledged for the composer of West Side Story’s career, but everything was well known to those who could bear the news (not least of which was fellow gay blade, Britten).
After all, conductors were meant to be coveted and fantasized about by women and envied/admired by men. If that image was publicly sullied, then how could Womens’ Committees continue to extract millions from their wealthy, jealous (oh the power of unleashing Mahler at full cry!) husbands and lovers?
Set on a remote New England island under threat of a severe meteorological event (Hurricane Maybelline, 1965), Anderson has created a magical world that has hints of Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, A Prayer for Owen Meany and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
Two somewhat married lawyers (Frances McDormand, Bill Murray) with more money than familial brains are trying to raise their brood in a fairy-tale summer house (beautifully and imaginatively “set” by Adam Stockhausen, Gerald Sullivan and Kris Moran) where the three precocious boys and their elder, distant sister are summoned to table by mom’s megaphone even as dad tries to endure the open sore of an unfaithful co-counsel by quaffing wine and felling timber.
Playing the seemingly “lost” Suzy, Kara Hayward gives a fully formed performance that belies her tender years. Whether utilizing her magic powers (a simple pair of binoculars bring her faraway insights and X-rated visions, including mom’s dalliances with single and oh-so-lonely one-man police department of New Penzance—Bruce Willis) or reading aloud from her treasure trove of juvenile “escape” books, Hayward is a constant delight.
The object of her affection comes in the ideally four-eyed form of Kaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) whose Troop 55 cohabits the isolated offshore retreat.
Aside from the aforementioned music (along with much more from Britten—Noye’s Fludde serving many narrative and musical purposes; the “Playful Pizzicato” from his Simple Symphony are especially welcome—and Conrad Pope’s deft orchestrations), Gilman’s portrayal of the first-class scout who is universally shunned by his fellow “be prepared” colleagues and uncaring foster parents demonstrates an early understanding that understatement is one of the most useful arrows in any actor’s quiver, achieving the subtlety badge with distinction. Whether covering their tracks while escaping the clutches of his elders with Suzy or apologizing like a man when their first French kiss stretches the fabric of his briefs, this is clearly a young talent with a bright future.
As fortunes change, it becomes readily apparent that the adults-in-charge (notably Edward Norton as Scoutmaster Ward) are just as “emotionally challenged” as the young lives in their care.
Happily, everyone is galvanized to shift gears and do the right thing for the ever-so-young lovers once Social Services (superbly rendered by the ice-cold Tilda Swinton) collectively shrugs society’s mainstream shoulders and attempts to place orphan Sam in an institution with an extra-expensive electric bill (shock therapy was also hailed as a cure for any Friend of Dorothy’s).
Unlike Bernstein and Britten, these “abnormal” live to love another day and in the public eye—more than the storm has been weathered once the all-clear has sounded.
Those who dash out of theatre just as the credits roll will miss Alexandre Desplat’s richly coloured menagerie delightfully narrated by Gilman. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over of the highest order. JWR