Quirky, quaint and charming, “Moonrise Kingdom” is meant for hardcore fans
Like bagpipes, George W. Bush and the collective works of Tyler Perry, “Moonrise Kingdom” writer-director Wes Anderson seems to arouse some pretty strong emotions.
Some people, including myself, find the Texas-born filmmaker — known for his quirky characters, offbeat dialogue and polished sense of visual style — completely charming. Others find his films preppy, pretentious and utterly annoying.
Regardless of where you fall in that spectrum, be forewarned: “Moonrise Kingdom” is Wes Anderson amplified.
Set on the (fictional) island of New Penzance during the waning days of summer 1965, the film revolves around an unlikely pair of young lovers: Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), an intense, solitary girl whose parents (Bill Murray and Francis McDormand) are convinced she’s seriously disturbed, and Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a bespectacled scout who’s gone through a series of foster homes.
After meeting at a community theater performance of “Noye’s Fludde,” the children concoct a plan.
Suzy will escape from Summer’s End, her family’s home, while Sam will sneak out of Camp Ivanhoe. The conspirators will then make their way across the island, fording streams and shuffling through piles of leaves, before taking a boat to the mainland.
When their disappearance is discovered, dim-witted but well-meaning police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) organizes a search party with the help of sincere Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and his troop of Khaki scouts.
Can they track down the escapees before the stern lady from Social Services (Tilda Swinton) shows up?
Witty, whimsical and totally twee, “Moonrise Kingdom” hits many of the same melancholy motifs as Anderson’s previous films, including precocious children, immature adults and a nostalgic obsession with the 1960s.
The movie feels like it was made in the ’60s, too, judging from the warm Kodachrome tone that bathes all of New England in golden light. That nostalgic mood is mirrored by a spectacular soundtrack that ranges from the etheral choral music of English composer Benjamin Britten to Hank Williams’ charmingly corny “Kaw-Liga.”
Fittingly, “Moonrise Kingdom” boasts one of Anderson’s best casts to date, led by frequent collaborator Bill Murray. (Jason Schwartzman, another Anderson stalwart, appears as wheeling-and-dealing Cousin Ben.) Bruce Willis plays partially against type as a kind-hearted small-town police officer, while Edward Norton is endearing as a straight-laced scoutmaster who’s utterly devoted to his job.
The film also features appearances by Bob Balaban as a quirky narrator and Harvel Keitel as head scoutmaster. (His cameo is short but exceedingly sweet.) Unfortunately, we don’t see much of the adults; most of “Moonrise Kingdom is spent with our engaging young leads, newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman.
“Moonrise Kingdom” isn’t for everyone, and it might be too much even for fair-weather fans. If you’re one of the many people who relish Wes Anderson’s unique world view, however, you’ll find “Moonrise Kingdom” is a true delight.
“Moonrise Kingdom” image courtesy of Focus Features.
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