Set amongst the gaggle of small island formations off the New England coast in the mid-60’s, a young boy scout named Sam (Jared Gilman) ensconced with his fellow troops and their regimented leader (Edward Norton) on one of the more sparely-populated locales, runs off with local girl Suzi (Kara Hayward) who he’s fallen in love with through their correspondence as penpals.
The two lost souls are the perfect fit (he’s a lonely orphan while she’s emotional-detached from her family life) but the chance to live a blissful existence camping out and listening to Suzi’s collection of 45s may be cut short for the couple as her understandably distraught parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the local Sheriff (Bruce Willis) are hot on their tale, not to mention a posse of over-excited scouts.
Anderson may have done away with his Futura typeface for the credits (Woody Allen, take note) and the bulk of scoring duties is allocated again to Fantastic Mr. Fox’s Alexandre Desplat (Mark Motherbaugh providing the ‘Camp Ivanhoe Cadence Medley’ ), but Moonrise Kingdom falls very much into that self-consciously kitsch aesthetic which has characterised all of Anderson’s previous work. The precise, formal camerawork is very much present and correct (particularly in the opening scenes) and other noticeable touches like his love for 60’s pop and those signature ultra wide angle zooms are peppered throughout.
A scene where the two kids nonchalantly jive along to French pop is arguably the most self-indulgent in the directors work thus far, but Anderson’s lovingly (and very cinematic) obsessive attention to detail (and some of the beautiful visual gags which spring from that) never fails to delight, regardless of the over-familiar.
It’s also immense fun watching A-listers Willis and Norton being integrated into the director’s universe, alongside McDormand and Tilda Swinton (who both, somehow, feel like Anderson regulars anyway). The two males look surprisingly at home here, offering sincere and likable performances, and Swinton (solely referred to as ‘Social Services’) is also a lot of fun. Her striking, deep-blue outfit/uniform makes her look likes she’s just stepped out of a 60’s Disney live-action feature. Murray (in his sixth collaboration with the director) may be doing his usual shtick, but it’s still imminently watchable, and his dead-pan tree-chopping line is up there with the deflated “I’m a little bit lonely these days” retort from Rushmore.
The narrative is a little shapeless at times (not one of Anderson’s strong points) but he and co-writer Roman Coppola are more intent on exploring character, and like the director’s best work, there’s an underlying sadness in both the lives of his adults and the two runaways, both of whom project a poignant stoicism, despite their supposedly happy and fulfilling union.
After a ramshackle and slapdash third act which features another regular Jason Schwartzman, and a brief, appealingly vulnerable turn by (of all people) Harvey Keitel, the dramatic ending edges into almost biblical territory, but again, Anderson is able to keep a handle on his characters amidst the chaos.
In the end, your enjoyment of Moonrise Kingdom will rest entirely on your propensity for Anderson’s distinctive brand of whimsy. Fans will undoubtedly lap it up, but it’s also worth noting that those whose interest in the director went south after the twee-testing exploits of Life Aquatic should check this out too, as it represents his strongest and most emotionally-satisfying work since The Royal Tenenbaums.
What it doesn’t offer is much in the way of any real growth in the film-maker, but his charming and intricately-crafted world is always a pleasure to observe, and that in itself is more than enough to negate some of the film’s structural shortcomings.