Two troubled 12-year-olds find that their broken pieces fit perfectly in this latest Wes Anderson (The Fantastic Mr. Fox) fantasy.
Sam (newcomer Jared Gilman) is an orphan with emotional issues and excellent scouting skills. Suzy Bishop (newcomer Kara Hayward) is a quiet girl prone to violent outbursts, observing the world through the detaching lens of binoculars and wearing too much eye makeup.
Meeting on a small New England island, they discover they are soul mates, or whatever the 12-year-old equivalent is.
Life will be better if they run off to their own version of paradise. To do this, Sam must break out of Camp Ivanhoe, stealing bedrolls, food and a canoe. Suzy doesn’t have it so hard. She just has to steal her little brother’s record player, put her kitten in a fishing satchel and walk right past her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
This mod Romeo and Juliet take to unmarked trails and ford streams in a quest to find a kingdom to call their own. Hot on their heels are a swarm of scouts and the town’s entire adult population. Luckily for the star-crossed lovers, competence is a rare commodity in this tiny island town. A record-breaking storm adds urgency to the hunt.
Moonrise Kingdom is so filled with 1960s’ frills and oddities that it seems as though the whole production takes place in Zooey Deschanel’s subconscious. Director Anderson, who also wrote the script with Roman Coppola, developed a successful career mining these aesthetics into his distinct style. By setting the film in the ‘60s, Anderson changes his typical styling from character idiosyncrasy to historical accuracy.
The camera work creates a sense of reality and depth sometimes missing from Anderson’s films. By utilizing long tracking shots to lead you around the Bishop home and thru Camp Ivanhoe, Anderson creates a sense of realistic space in an unrealistic world, the same way Hitchcock did in Rear Window.
Anderson also carefully crafts the characters in this fractured fairytale. Both Gilman and Hayward make impressive debuts. Hayward’s eyes convey tons of emotion though her face remains impassive. Gilman is perfect as the self-serious boy with a child’s visage.
The adults do their part in bringing pops of quirk and comedy to their supporting roles. Murray and McDormand are a dynamic duo of dysfunction as lawyer parents who present their disagreements in formal court terms. Ed Norton’s overly committed scoutmaster is a comic gem as he leads his scouts on a rescue mission to find the runaways.
The story is at its heart comedic, but with plenty of dramatic moments. But Anderson gives so much attention to styling and art direction that he misses emotional beats. I long for a better picture of Suzy’s depression, for example. The more disturbing elements of the children’s personalities, like stabbing people in blind rages, is played for laughs. Anderson eschews emotional growth for a glossy veneer.
Moonrise Kingdom is a dreamlike romp through a ‘60s’ fantasy wilderness. If you enjoy French pop, the ennui of youth and a shirtless, axe-wielding Bill Murray, this is the flick for you.