Director: Wes Anderson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: 2012 Focus Features
Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, will try the patience and frazzle the nerves of those immune to the writer-director’s wry, unapologetically eccentric output. If movies as odd and good as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums or Fantastic Mr. Fox didn’t impress you, then this twee little charmer is not likely to win you over. For those willing to ease up and give Moonrise Kingdom a shot, there is a lot to like about this charming, sometimes unsettling curio set in the summer of 1965. The film centers on a pair of love-struck, precocious, highly imaginative 12-year-olds (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who run off and hide together on an idyllic, pop art-colored New England island, the fictional New Penzance.
Anderson puts the accent on the “England” in New England with a whimsical mood and merrily self-mocking visuals that evoke not only Gilbert and Sullivan and Lewis Carroll but also Peter Pan. With a major storm brewing, a search for the preteens is headed by a wayward pack of adult screwballs that includes Bruce Willis as a mild-mannered small town cop, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel as peculiar scoutmasters, Tilda Swinton as a shock therapy-happy social worker and, as the young heroine's parents, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, who live in a dollhouse-like converted lighthouse and whose kids listen to records of lectures on composer Benjamin Britten (whose work, and that of Alexandre Desplat, is a lovely part of the show). No wonder these passionate kids flee to wildness far more magical and unusual than their own. Unlike the coffee table book aesthetic of Anderson’s previous films, cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman has shot this one in a slightly more modest but meticulously oddball style.
As one would expect, the movie bursts at the seams with highly stylized acting, insistent costume and production design, lots of boy scouts frantically running back and forth and Bob Balaban popping up to deliver deadpan on-screen narration. Anderson is certainly onto something when he lets things simmer down and focuses on the hothouse, us-against-the-world relationship of the two kids; it evokes a bit of the freshness and lyricism of films by Truffaut or even Bonnie and Clyde and such ’70s movies as A Little Romance. Moonrise Kingdom may be a light summer entrée, but it rewards us by serving up a rich romantic fantasy and isn’t afraid to share its sweet, beating young heart.