From the opening scene shooting through a cross-section of a family home that gives it a distinct dolls house aesthetic it’s clear to Wes Anderson fans that we’re in familiar territory with Moonrise Kingdom. Arriving fresh from its successful debut at Cannes the film features all of the whimsical director’s regular tropes including deadpan zingers, rigid horizontal shots and emotional detachment but this time features a sweet central romance that penetrates the wall of disconnection.
Jared Gilman is Sam, a misfit orphan Khaki Scout in 1965 who quits his camp on a picturesque New England island to run away with fellow troubled twelve-year-old Suzy (Kara Hayward). The disappearance prompts Edward Norton’s Scout Master and Brice Willis’ island cop to lead the search party to track them down. It’s the age-old story of star-crossed young lovers and it’s beautifully played by the appealing young leads who carry their many lengthy scenes and a sometimes quite intimate on-screen relationship with subtlety and charm.
By the same token the grown-ups hit all the right notes, especially Willis whose sympathetic and nuanced turn as the lonely Captain Sharp serves as a strong reminder of his range beyond the world-weary action hero. Norton looks great in his long socks and characterizes his mildly strict but ultimately warm-hearted Scout Master Ward with aplomb. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are good value as Suzy’s morose lawyer parents and Tilda Swinton brings her best Ice Queen to her Social Services officer. Everyone is clearly on the same offbeat page and the comedy and drama both work well as a result.
There’s a melancholy sweetness to the story that is very hard to resist and the period detail, gorgeous woodland setting and whimsically nostalgic tone help to sell the appealing American childhood all over again. Moonrise Kingdom is the kind of film that gently absorbs you and raises in you a warm sense of goodwill.
Those not enamoured by Anderson’s unique style will find nothing to sway them in Moonrise Kingdom but everyone else will be charmed by a simple story of innocent heart and a fresh pair of engaging young stars.