Wes Anderson’s films have all taken place in a stylized version of the real world – from the Texas plains of “Bottle Rocket” to the meadows and dens of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” – but “Moonrise Kingdom” is the first to be set in an entirely fictional location: New Penzance Island, home to a handful of full-time residents, a favorite destination for Scout troops, and the setting for a typically dry, droll, and sweet Anderson outing.
One morning at the tail end of the summer of 1965, Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) emerges from his tent at the Khaki Scouts’ camp on New Penzance Island to find that one troop member – 12-year-old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a precocious orphan not well liked by his fellow boys – has flown the coop. Sam has a rendezvous with Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a girl his age who lives with her family on the island and with whom he has been corresponding by letter over the past year. Suzy and Sam want to run away together, in the manner of young lovers since time immemorial.
Scoutmaster Ward activates the rest of the troop to go searching for their lost member, joined by local police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s attorney parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand). Social services, represented by a woman who only ever refers to herself as Social Services (played by Tilda Swinton), also gets involved eventually, as do Scout leaders at nearby camps (played by Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel) and a local man (Bob Balaban) who serves as narrator.
Evading capture while living in the wild via Sam’s expert camping and survivalist skills, Sam and Suzy enjoy a chaste, tender romance that has the distinction of being both whimsical – Suzy, as precocious as Sam (and every other youth in a Wes Anderson movie), has brought along a battery-operated record player to provide entertainment – and heartrendingly realistic. That disarming mixture of quaint hipsterism and genuine emotion is what makes Anderson’s best work so effective, and it’s in full force here thanks to winningly unaffected performances by young Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.
Though it’s been five years since Anderson’s last live-action feature (“The Darjeeling Limited”), his fans will be glad to know he has not deviated from his formalized visual style and fondness for elaborately composed shots. Co-writing with Roman Coppola, his humor remains subtle and wry, the young characters – who are definitely the focus here – as well-spoken as the adults.
I know there are people who find Anderson’s films too self-consciously twee to be enjoyable. I don’t agree with those people, but I know they exist. “Moonrise Kingdom” certainly won’t change their minds; it is every inch a Wes Anderson joint, and he isn’t exploring much new territory. But don’t dismiss it. This is terrific work by an enviably talented filmmaker, with a wistful poignance that will stick with you.
A- (1 hr., 34 min.; )
Reprinted from Film.com.