I am a long-time Wes Anderson apologist who freely admits that the writer/director’s mannered filmmaking and off-kilter sensibilities are not for everybody.
I happen to love Anderson’s work, not just for his oddball sense of humor, but for how humanely and sweetly he treats all of his characters.
At his heart, Anderson is eternally a precocious 14-year old. He sees a world that while frightening and confusing is still full of wonder, potential, and hope.
The children in his films are often mature and principled while the adults are often petty and childish; as nearly every movie ends with everyone finding an idiosyncratic common ground filled with mutual understanding and Rolling Stones’ B-sides.
His new film “Moonrise Kingdom” is quintessential Anderson as we follow the star-crossed romance of two bright, socially outcast middle-schoolers.
The movie is set on a sleepy island off the coast of New England in the mid-1960s. Sam (Jared Gilman) is a bespectacled orphan who lives in a foster home and Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a brooding loner who likes fantasy fiction and lots of eye shadow. I can practically guarantee you that a teenaged Wes Anderson’s world was devastated by a moody girl in heavy eye shadow.
When Sam runs away from his Khaki Scout camp and meets Suzy out in the woods, the two flee into the wilderness where their innocent romance blossoms.
But what turns out to be even more interesting than Sam and Suzy discovering love out under the stars is the chaos their disappearance sets off amongst the island’s tightly-wound adults.
Sam’s scoutmaster Ward (played brilliantly by Edward Norton) leads his troop with military efficiency but becomes unmoored by Sam’s disappearance.
He contacts the island’s lone authority, police officer Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis at his sad-sack best), who helps lead the search for the lost children.
Suzy’s parents Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray, an Anderson stalwart) have plenty of issues of their own that bubble to the surface once their daughter runs off.
The cast is outstanding and Anderson plays to each actor’s particular strength. Only Anderson could find the subtle brilliance in a shirtless, ax-wielding Murray dejectedly declaring “I’m going outside to find a tree to chop down.”
“Moonrise Kingdom” is a movie set firmly in a specific time and place as Anderson makes great pains to copy the camera moves and washed-out color palates found in films of the 1960s.
Music always plays an important part in any Anderson movie and here he has chosen to heavily feature Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” These instructional musical pieces provide a nice metaphor for the underlying theme of “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Here children are discovering that something beautiful and powerful is actually filled with many subtle nuances and complexities that even most adults are oblivious to.
Anderson could have just as easily called “Moonrise Kingdom” “The Young Person’s Guide to Love.”
Regardless of how you feel about Anderson and his movies, “Moonrise Kingdom” is a rewarding little movie worthy of tracking down.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.