It makes perfect sense that Wes Anderson’s latest Moonrise Kingdom tells the tale of two twelve year olds experiencing first love on the run. His distinct style has a hint of innocence to it, as if the sets and characters are his toys to arrange how he pleases. Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are Anderson’s latest dolls, as star-crossed lovers Suzy and Sam. The two are a delight together as trouble pre-teens who bond over their shared awkwardness. Anderson tells their story with complete honesty and really hits on that confusion one goes through when you first experience adult feelings while still trapped in a child’s body. Suzy and Sam, her with her exaggerated eye shadow, him with his pipe, are so eager for adulthood. In one scene Sam literally pours out a glass of milk to replace it with beer, pushing away the innocence of childhood. There is also a subtle but significant anti-bullying theme, when Sam’s fellow scouts question their hatred for him. Anderson clearly remembers what it is like to be a child.
Sam and Suzy meet and are instantly drawn to each other as the two are misunderstood by all around them. They become pen pal and plan to run away together over the course of letters. When they make their escape, they are pursued by his scouting troop, her family, and the local law enforcement. While the adults’ initial reaction is to keep to two apart, it becomes clear their connection will not be easily severed. When the adults learn orphaned Sam has run out of foster homes, they become determined to keep him from Social Services and give him the home he deserves, that is, if they ever find him.
While Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman appear in the film, much of the cast, including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel, are making their Wes Anderson debut. The eclectic group of actors all mesh well together. Willis’ performance is tender and has a sadness to it that we don’t often get to see from the well-known actor. Norton is also great as Scout Master Ward. He is pure soul who just wants to help children, which is a rare character to see nowadays. Murray and McDormand are strong a married couple that works on paper but are obviously struggling. Schwartzman is also enjoyable in his brief cameo as the overgrown Boy Scout (excuse me, Khaki Scout) who is scamming kids out of their nickels.
The world of scouting is a good fit for Anderson. In many ways, he’s the boy scout of the film world, with all these impressive skills that are a bit out dated. It is clear that Anderson is heavily influenced by filmmakers from the past, so it is also fitting that this film takes place in 1965. Anderson’s films are chocked full of nostalgia and one look at Hayward’s Suzy tells you Anderson is a Fellini fan.
The script is tight with laughs coming naturally. There is a normalcy to this cast of characters that is refreshing. Often his protagonist reach almost cartoonist levels of dysfunction, but while Sam, Suzy, and those in their orbit each have a sadness and a restlessness to them, their quirkiness is kept in check. This is a return to form for Anderson, but this added restraint points to a maturity that gives you high hopes for the future of this filmmaker. While the film feels a tad longer than its 94 minute run time, each scene has an element of the magic one expects from Anderson.