Wes Anderson does the near-unthinkable with “Moonrise Kingdom”: he manages to blend a sort of messy emotional buzz with his trademark uber-controlled direction. From top to bottom it’s a project whose clashing qualities threaten to sink it — but it never happens. “Moonrise Kingdom”, like the best of its creator’s work, tells an organically touching story in a meticulously crafted way.
“Kingdom” tells the story of Sam and Suzy, two relative loners on the fictional East Coast island of New Penzance. It’s the 1960s and as they dawn on their teenage years, they seem to find a solace from their loneliness in each other. Before we know it the two are on the run, leaving Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray in fine, if underused form), Sam’s Scout troop (led by a khaki-shorts rocking Edward Norton) and the town sheriff (Bruce Willis in a surprisingly reserved role) on a frantic search to find them.
And while these adults’ incompetent, yet well-meaning attempts make up much of the running time, this story is unquestionably that of Sam and Suzy. Played by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the two, who have never acted in a film before, bring an off-kilter nervousness that’s really appropriate for the nature of their roles. This is a film where two people really begin to discover themselves, and yes, even physically each other, for a while. These scenes, bringing groans to the more conservative patrons of my theater, are the ones that stuck out most to me; simply put, teenage sexuality is rarely portrayed this openly and this bluntly. It certainly isn’t obnoxious or overt, it feels exactly as two 12-year olds should.
Emotional though it may be, Anderson still brings his trademark dry wit to the film. His tendency to blend dialogue quips with densely packed visual gags clicks better here than ever before. Tone, too, is something he seems to have mastered by now. While disaffected irony often threatens to swallow the film whole, here he manages to alternate his somber milieu with his more light-hearted, humanist moments. It’s unified in tone while varied in emotion, something many filmmakers, Anderson included, tend to stumble in pulling off. Major props.
In pulling many dissonant elements together, Anderson has made his most cohesive, and “Royal Tenenbaums” aside, perhaps best film yet. With its painfully evocative, almost eerie 1950s’ opera and children’s soundtrack choices, he makes full use of sound as an extension of the mood he sets to strike. And what mood! “Moonrise Kingdom” is fairy tale by way of French New Wave, a film that for all of its limitations and labels, seems to inspire and entertain more than most. A