Review: Quirky, Charming Young Love in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’

You can always tell when you’ve entered Wes Anderson’s world. The director of The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox has an identifiable style, to put it mildly.

Perhaps it’s something about the perfectly crafted shots, with sets, framing, costumes, and positioning all choreographed in meticulous detail. Perhaps it’s the sherbet colors. Or maybe it’s something about the stoic and dour expressions on everyone’s faces.

In any case, Moonrise Kingdom, opening today, is very Wes Anderson-y, if that’s a word.

It’s a whimsical, wryly humorous romp through 1960s adolescence, with as much of the heart coming from the world Anderson creates as from his story.

The film opens as the camera stares through the many rooms of a cozy house enduring the rain on a wooded island in New England. The camera stares through all the rooms as a girl would look into her carefully crafted dollhouse, the front opened up to observe the inhabitants. Three little boys, a mother and a father are all passing away a rainy day in mundane activity. And Suzy (Kara Hayward), only 12 and wearing dayglow blue eyeshadow, is listening to music.

Meanwhile, across the lightly inhabited island, the Khaki Scouts are waking up for their morning drills in their almost entirely outdoor camp. The Khaki Scouts are either a send-up of or an homage to the Boy Scouts. With Wes Anderson, it’s hard to tell and may well be both. Boys who spend their summer at camp, learning outdoor skills, they live in a fantasy world of building tree forts and doing rifle practice, all under the quasi-military eye of Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton).

But one is missing. Sam (Jared Gilman) has left camp. Not so much escaped as graciously resigned from the Scouts, Sam has an appointment to keep with Suzy.

When Suzy turns up missing as well, the entire Khaki Scout troop joins with the police officer (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) to find them before a huge storm hits the island.

That’s the setup, but the devil, or in this case, the angel, is in the details.

And details are what Anderson knows. They create a hilarious and warm universe in which these characters come to life.

So when Suzy runs away, she lugs a suitcase full of her favorite girlhood fantasy literature and her brother’s portable record player. (For those of you who don’t know, records are how we used to listen to MP3s before iPods, only we called them “LPs” or “singles.”)

Sam bustles with self-important but largely untested wilderness skills, smokes a pipe, and never takes off his coonskin cap.

The two twelve year olds talk at each other rather than to each other, as twelve year olds are wont to do.

But they – and this is the twist that makes the movie slightly uncomfortable and challenging – feel that they, at twelve, have found the love of their lives, someone who understands and accepts the darker side of them, the rages and bad behavior that they don’t understand themselves. Their parents and Scout masters surely don’t.

They aren’t running away for sex, although there is a little tentative exploratory petting that goes on. They run away in the ultimate fantasy of the perfect escape, the perfect refuge from the world.

Of course, the larger world, in the form of a deadly approaching storm, can’t let them go all that easily.

The nice thing about the film and Anderson’s perspective, is there is no real bad guy. Although the various adults that hunt the wayward children are, in a sense, the enemy, their hearts are good and their motives pure. Even scoldings are born of love.

Make no mistake, the adults are as mixed up as the kids. The fantastic supporting cast is much more than just supporting. Willis, as a lonely cop, Murray as a lonely husband, and McDormand as a confused housewife all shine. And Edward Norton as the Scout master gives an earnest oddball performance.

In fact, they’re all pleasingly oddball, which makes the film’s almost sappy ending work.

Underneath all the careening Scouts and over the top strutting, the film is about flawed and lonely people finding and fighting for love, both kids and adults, and finding shelter from storms in each other.

Apparently, that works among quirky eccentrics as well as the rest of us.

Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

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