On Movies: Trip to 'Moonrise Kingdom' is worth it
There is a child-like formality, a deadpan innocence about the films of Wes Anderson that can be either fetchingly sweet and comic (“Rushmore,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) or tiresomely quaint and obscure (“The Darjeeling Limited,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”). Anderson’s new movie, “Moonrise Kingdom,” definitely falls in the first category. It succeeds in being endearing and more than a little weird without inflating whimsy into what the writer Bob Sanford used to call “whamsy.”
The movie is set in 1965 (but definitely not in “the Sixties”). On an island off the coast of New England, love seizes two neglected, lonely 12 year olds -- a foster-child boy camping with a troop of bullying “Khaki Scouts” and a highly imaginative girl whose large family has a house on the island. The two kids, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), run away together into the wilds of the island, following an ancient Indian route to a beautiful, hidden inlet. They are pursued by gaggles of Scouts and police. Meanwhile, a terrible storm is brewing off shore.
Sam and Suzy pitch a tent. He warns her that he might wet the bed. She says that’s OK and crawls in with him. The next thing we know, it’s morning.
Sam sports a coonskin hat and puffs on a corncob pipe. Suzy is dressed for the wilderness in a prim pink dress with a Peter Pan collar, carrying a suitcase holding her favorite books. This is a fairy tale, and it was filmed (by Robert Yeoman, Anderson’s usual cinematographer) in a soft, dreamy light – note the title – that amplifies the sense of fantasy. Non sequiturs abound. The energetic Khaki Scouts build a tree house and it’s as high as the top of a sequoia; an old salt (Bob Balaban) pops up from nowhere to lure us into the future with tales of things to come.
Leading the search for the children, whose most fervent dream is to be lost together, are two essentially decent if somewhat thickheaded men – Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). They seem to represent adults as a child would imagine them to be, stiff and unspontaneous and beset by silly rules of behavior, but sometimes given to wisdom. Norton and Willis stay firmly in character, stifling any urge to over-emote. The same is true of Bill Murray and Francis McDormand, who play Alice’s well-meaning but clueless parents.
“Moonrise Kingdom,” which was the opening-night film at the recent Cannes Film Festival, exists in a gently stylized, idiosyncratic version of the real world. Anderson tugs you into his Wonderland and leads you through it and it’s a memorable trip.
Opens Friday June 8