“Moonrise Kingdom’s” co-writer/director Wes Anderson has a style that is immediately identifiable. His oeuvre involves sad sack characters in vintage costumes blocked perfectly in the center of wide angle framing. It’s a hallmark that tends to split audiences into those who find it charming and those who find it annoying.
I suppose I should start by saying that I’ve been a fan of Anderson’s since his 1996 low-key, losers on the run tale “Bottle Rocket” and while I haven’t been taken with all of his films, it was to my delight that his latest film not only sees his distinctive voice evolving, but that this story also wonderfully benefits from it.
“Kingdom” is the story of two 12 year old outcasts – Sam, an orphaned Khaki Scout (think Boy Scouts), and Suzy, an angsty girl from an emotionally dysfunctional family. After a chance encounter and ensuing pen pal relationship, the pair decide to run away together for a brief retreat. Needless to say, their abrupt exits leave Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton), a local cop (Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand) in a tizzy as they try to locate the children.
What makes this movie work is how endearing the children’s relationship is. While the adult characters are played perfectly by the seasoned cast, at times they can feel a few details away from being fully formed. The children, however, are perfectly nuanced in alternate but similarly appropriate ways that not only endear us to them, but help us understand why they are endeared to one another.
Both have interests that seem probably suited to two loners looking to escape and entertain themselves. Watching them share these personal hobbies with one another is one of the joys of the film. Sam proudly demonstrates his scout training, explaining that they can stave off thirst by sucking on pebbles; Suzy gamely obliges. Similarly, Suzy enjoys fantasy novels and invites Sam into her private worlds as she reads the books she’s packed with her aloud to him.
While there’s a playfulness in the air of this storybook-style world Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola have crafted – where a pre-teen search party of scouts resemble a cute riff on a rag-tag military outfit – it’s a credit to Anderson’s abilities that he is able to properly balance the story’s occasionally more grounded moments of vulnerability and aggression. Those moments are what keep this otherwise whimsical story of pre-teen innocence and anxiety tangible, reminding us that as much fun as we’re having, these kids are carrying real emotional wounds that need tending.
On a technical level, Anderson certainly sticks with his familiar visual voice, including long dolly shots and groups of people walking in slow motion, but it also feels as if he’s pushing it forward in a way. There are some fun moments where he plays with composition for comedy that feel confident and not requisite. A cleverly framed moment where we see Bill Murray from the inside of a tent comes to mind.
As a fan of Anderson it makes me happy to not only have another film of his to enjoy, but also knowing that he is still able to craft satisfying stories that he specifically knows how to tell best.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is currently playing in New York and Los Angeles with a wider release set for June 29.