I soured on the non-stop whimsy of Wes Anderson's output shortly after The Royal Tenenbaums. But he won me back with his charming stop-motion comedy The Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I dared to take a chance on his latest, Moonrise Kingdom.
The good news is that I think it's his best, most honest live action film since Bottle Rocket. The bad news is that it's such an archetypal Wes Anderson film that it's made me realize that all of his movies are archetypal Wes Anderson films. In other words, after 16 years, the dude may be a one-trick pony, exhibiting the same old self-conscious quirk and droll hipster humor. So if you've decided that you loathe Anderson's style, move on; Moonrise Kingdom will do nothing to change your mind. But if you're a fan of Anderson, you're gonna love this one.
The story is a Romeo and Juliet-style fable about Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), two 12-year-old outcasts who are both stuck on an island off the Eastern Seaboard during Labor Day weekend, 1965. The two penpals run away from their peers - Sam from his "khaki scout" pack, led by Edward Norton, and Suzy from her parents, played by Frances McDormand and Anderson stalwart Bill Murray, and set off to explore the island.
Bruce Willis plays the island's lone policeman, who tries with the others to bring these star-crossed lovers back to where they belong. Problem is, neither of them really belongs anywhere. Both have been labeled "problem children" (although the film depicts them mostly as precocious and nerdy, though Suzy does have violent tendencies) and nobody likes them very much. Sam and Suzy really have no one to turn to but each other.
I think Anderson is in his element here because emotionally he may have some sort of arrested development. So whereas I think he failed in expressing real adult feelings in The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, he's in his comfort zone when he gets to tell stories with puppets and children.
Though Suzy's burgeoning sexuality may be a bit too authentic for some parents to feel comfortable watching with their own kids, Moonrise Kingdom truly feels like a movie for adolescents, and not in a bad way. The two young leads are perfect, and Anderson did well to cast the consistently underrated Norton and Willis, actors who bring a natural vulnerability to the table. They add a humanity to what might otherwise have been a mere stylistic exercise.
While it would be nice if Anderson could start taking some artistic risks for a change, because his gimmick is getting old, Moonrise Kingdom is at least evidence that the gimmick still has worthy outlets.