For me, few directors elicit as many mixed feelings as Wes Anderson does. In general, I find his movies pretentious and unabashedly proud their attempts at originality. Wes Anderson reminds me of so many young, aspiring artists I that have come into contact with over the years who seem convinced that in order to be viewed as a true artist you must carry a large amount of emotional baggage. Everyone carries emotional baggage, but only those starved for attention advertise the fact that they do.
Another thing that perplexes me about Anderson is his obsession with 1960s and ‘70s American kitsch. Each of his movies remind me of trips I used to make as a middle school student to the local retirement home—the old peoples’ rooms trapped in time. Anderson’s movies are trapped in a warped version of that era, but to my knowledge Moonrise Kingdom is the first film of his to warrant such an appearance as it is set in that time period—1965, to be exact.
Moonrise Kingdom has a simple charm to it. It’s a story of young love, and the two lovers are very endearing. The boy is an overly zealous member of the Khaki Scouts (a take on the Boy Scouts) and is thoroughly disliked by his fellow troop members. He is also an orphan, but conceals this fact from the troop. The girl is a misunderstood and troublesome child in a large family of mostly boys. They live beneath a lighthouse on an island off the coast of New England. Her father, played by Bill Murray (who has been in all of Anderson’s films), is very distant and removed from the family. When his daughter runs away to be with the boy she loves, his reaction is a feigned one, showing the concern a father should exhibit, though his heart is not in it. It’s a lackluster part for Murray, who is usually capable of making a significant imprint on the most minor of roles. The real stars of the picture are the two young lovers, Sam and Suzy (played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, respectfully). They are both awkward enough in appearance that we take pleasure in watching their little relationship flourish from at first pouring out each other’s secrets as pen pals to becoming partner fugitives. The little island that is their world is a small one, and their aspirations don’t seem to go much beyond reaching a geographical point significant to that of the indigenous peoples. Following them in pursuit are the other members of Sam’s troop (a colorful array of ‘Khaki’ personalities) and their fastidious scoutmaster, played by Edward Norton. Also in pursuit is the captain of the Island Police (Bruce Willis), and an insidious bureaucrat clad all in blue known only as “Social Services” (Tilda Swinton).
It’s fun to watch the two children in love bond on their retreat. Sam’s scouting backpack offers a seemingly endless supply camp ware, and Suzy brings with her a trove of stolen library books, which she reads to Sam while he smokes his corncob pipe. Things get a little frantic toward the end as a violent storm approaches. Sam at one point is struck by lightning while being chased by the other members of his troop. He gets up as though nothing had happened, and the troops, who had just up until a moment before had been chasing him, vanish entirely. It’s the kind of blunder that reminds us that it’s a fantasy we’re watching. Much of the dialogue is uttered as though it were expecting laughs, especially from the scoutmaster, but they fall flat. Most of the laughs in the film are visual, and they come chiefly from Sam’s ingenuity as a scout.
I can recommend Moonrise Kingdom as the light piece of entertainment that it is. It comes woefully equipped with Anderson’s other cinematic pitfalls, but the chemistry between the film’s young stars makes up for this, and Anderson’s love of kitsch finally works, adding to the visual interest. Anderson is the kind of filmmaker who you can tell is fiercely proud of his work, and I think he truly believes he’s showing us something we’ve never seen before. If he were there on the screen staring back at you for a response, the only thing I feel you could do is nod perfunctorily and say apathetically, “Yes, Wes, it is that good.”