Writers can be distinctive or not. Even the prose of many professional writers is indistinguishable from one to the next. And so it goes with directors and screenwriters.
There’s no mistaking the images, dialogue, characters, wry tone and subtle comedy of Wes Anderson for any other director.
Before Moonrise Kingdom, his best-known projects were Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, but now Moonrise Kingdom claims the title of ultimate Wes Anderson film.
Circa 1965, Anderson’s latest tells a characteristically offbeat tale of two 12-year-old misfits who, in finding each other, find a place for themselves in the world, or at least within their sparsely populated New England island community.
Film newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky. They meet at a church pageant. Sam’s in the audience. Suzy’s on stage playing a raven and, offstage, she’s known for flying off the handle.
Sam’s role in real life is that of an orphan in foster care. He’s unpopular among his peers in the militaristic Khaki Scouts. As for Suzy, she’s a sullen, troubled girl, something no doubt reflected in her love for the recordings of moody French chanteuse Francoise Hardy.
Gilman and Hayward are real 12-year-olds playing 12-year-olds. Multitalented youngsters whose experience includes acting and writing, they make their feature film debuts in Moonrise Kingdom. Hayward is more convincing as a very young person in love, but Gilman is especially good in the movie’s madcap action sequences.
This almost magical story is also an account of the adults in Sam and Suzy’s lives. The grownups have their own troubles.
Even though the oldsters don’t get as much time on screen as the kids, Anderson and Roman Coppola’s script draws them in revealing, amusing detail.
Bruce Willis, doing more Sixth Sense than Die Hard here, co-stars as Capt. Sharp, the island’s sheriff and perhaps only law enforcement officer. A man without a smile, he lives alone in a vintage 1952 Spartanette. Mournful Hank Williams songs serve as his leitmotif.
Bill Murray, an Anderson regular, and Frances McDormand co-star as Suzy’s parents, both of whom are attorneys. Murray gets a few classic Murray-Anderson scenes.
The film gets some of its fireworks, too, when Suzy’s parents fly into litigious rage, their mutual outburst driven by the instinctively combustible combination of being both parents and attorneys.
Suzy and Sam’s disappearance does a magnificent job of disrupting the island’s calm veneer. An approaching hurricane complicates things.
The madness begins when Sam’s Scout master (Edward Norton) finds the boy’s formal letter of resignation from the Khaki Scouts.
Mobilizing his troops, Scout Master Ward declares a nonviolent rescue.
The Scouts, none of whom likes Sam, declare a search and destroy mission. Even worse for Sam, a character known simply as Social Services (Tilda Swinton) declares: “Just find the boy and deliver him to Social Services. Nothing else is in your power.”
Suzy’s mother soon realizes that her daughter is missing and, as prolific correspondence between Sam and Suzy shows, they planned a mutual escape.
Hurricanes, 12-year-olds in love in the wilderness, Khaki Scouts on a hunting expedition — it could all end badly. But Moonrise Kingdom creates unexpected alliances and unforeseen opportunities for kindness, even love of the altruistic kind.
Also, it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s Anderson doing what he does better than he’s ever done before.
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