The most striking thing in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is that the vulnerability never gets lost amongst the precociousness of it all. This is still a very strange kind of children’s film that is not for children (it reminds you of Mani Ratnam this way). In their haste to adulthood, Sam and Suzy, the young runaway couple, camp up and discover themselves and their future in hilarious fashion. But even in this moment, Sam takes the pain to tell her, “It’s possible I might wet the bed today.” And apologizes in advance.
We don’t know Sam and Suzy’s story well into the plot but some economical storytelling deftly unfolds their epistolary romance. Sam and Suzy are star-crossed lovers. They are also too young to be doing a lot of things they end up doing and a little too disturbed. That way they might just be star-crossed children. Their elopement – what is assumed to be just a disappearance in the beginning – throws their small island into a frenzy with Suzy’s already troubled parents, the scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, in a masterstroke of casting) and his wards, Captain Sharp of US Police, a very grim but straight talking Bruce Willis all looking for them. Also throw in Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel in minor but memorable roles. I particularly enjoyed Bob Balaban as the purposeful narrator, especially the way he’s ever prescient about the little details in the story as he informs you of the impending storm/floods, the mailman who doubles up as the dependable commute to the island etc.
Wes Anderson always succeeds in making the queer and the dysfunctional seem pleasing and endearing. Here it is no different. It’s not mere sugar coating. There is a method to Anderson’s characters, the way they walk and talk, the kind of places they encompass (This film could be set anywhere. It’s shot around the scenic New England area but within the film itself, the US Mail and Social Services notwithstanding, it could just be a neverland) and all of this contributes to that. There is the strained relationship of Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) that is both beautifully symbolized and visualized. There is the comical rendering of Sam’s foster parents declining to take him back. This is a very cheery, happy film on the outside but it is all pent up melancholia inside.
It has every Wes Anderson trademark. The dry humor, the quick cuts to different frames and shots, the rock/folk music, some heavy philosophy disguised as platitudes and the use of a limited palette. Then there are Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman among the cast. You have dialogs that sort of break the fourth wall. Or even the characters among themselves engaging only in monosyllables. This is probably Wes Anderson’s finest feature in a long time. Ok, I admit I haven’t watched Fantastic Mr. Fox but The Darjeeling Limited, as delightful as it was with its vibrant characters, imagery and soundtrack, did come across as a little heady.
Moonrise Kingdom has a strong cast and the similar vibrant imagery. The lushness of the New England area is zealously captured from the mostly hidden sun to the torrential rains to the twilight and the shadows it creates. It must be watched just for that. Or for Wes Anderson’s remarkable story. Or maybe just for Sam and Suzy.