Maybe it’s fitting that a film about young love would elicit that sort of rapturous response. At any rate, very few filmmakers capture the strange world of adolescent obsession — the exuberance, the earnestness, the flat-out weirdness — like Anderson does.
This is the movie Anderson was meant to make, the masterpiece he has hinted he had in him all along. His best works, particularly Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, have tickled such repeating themes as the quest for family and the melancholia of lost youth. Those ideas reach their most poignant realization in Moonrise Kingdom, and it does so with such a nimble touch — funny but not absurd, quirky but not suffocatingly so — as to be almost magical.
Set in 1965, our star-crossed lovers are Sam Shakusky (newcomer Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (newcomer Kara Hayward), two 12-year-olds who meet one summer on the mythical New England island of New Penzance, where Suzy lives and Sam is attending a boys’ camp.
The pair are destined for each other. Sam, outfitted in crooked eyeglasses and coonskin cap, is an orphan who has trouble making friends. Suzy, burdened with three younger brothers and parents (Bill Murray, Get Low, and Frances McDormand, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) who are having marital problems, has trouble curbing a volatile temper. After a flurry of correspondence, Sam and Suzy plan to run away from their respective adult supervision and rendezvous for a momentous adventure before summer’s end.
She brings a suitcase filled with girls’ adventure books and a battery-operated record player. Sam takes camping gear and a corncob pipe. Together they dance on a secluded beach, read dime-store novels and explore a romance as chaste as it is irresistible. Meanwhile, they must dodge Sam’s befuddled scout master (Edward Norton, Stone), a troop of heavily armed scouts and New Penzance’s sole police officer, the chronically dour-looking Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis, Red).
The less revealed about what happens in Moonrise Kingdom, the better. The script by Anderson and Roman Coppola (Francis’ son) doesn’t rely on twists, exactly, but its unpredictability is part of the film’s many joys. Not many movies these days can keep you guessing as to where it’s headed, but Moonrise Kingdom is too wonderfully unique to anticipate. For all its hilarity, you sense the possibility of real danger.
Anderson’s film is crafted with the same precision and visual sumptuousness his admirers (do I sound like one?) have come to expect, from painterly compositions to elaborate camera tracking shots that take us through this imaginative world. Cinemaographer Robert D. Yeoman injects a swirl of colors that augment a feeling of nostalgia for childhoods that never existed. And the cast is uniformly excellent, including a brief but memorable turn by Anderson alum Jason Schwartzman (TV’s Bored to Death).
This is one for the ages. Don’t miss it.