“Moonrise Kingdom,” Wes Anderson’s new comedy of melancholy, sneaks up on you.
Initially it seems comfortingly familiar. We get Anderson’s trademark visual oddities; in the first shot the camera pans past the rooms of a sort of lighthouse home as if peering into a dollhouse occupied by living figurines – it’s like a similar passage set aboard a ship in Anderson's “The Life Aquatic."
There are oodles of absurdist humor applied with deadpan delivery. There are faces (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman) familiar from other Anderson efforts. But about halfway through you realize that this time around Anderson is going for the magic as well.
In this tale of two 12-year-olds who run away to live an idyllic life in the woods, Anderson is hitting some new notes, creating chords of childlike innocence entwined with adult angst.
It’s the summer of 1965 on New Penzance Island, a New England paradise with no paved roads, lush forests and lovely rocky beaches.
Living full time on the island is Suzy Bishop (Kara Haywood). Suzy isn’t beautiful, exactly, but she has riveting eyes and sharp features and a penetrating stare. She looks like a young Christine Baranski.
Suzy’s parents (Murray, Frances McDormand) are lawyers who converse in their own legalspeak. She’s got a couple of obnoxious little brothers. Outwardly, they seem a normal enough family.
But Suzy, we learn, is a troubled girl. She’s in therapy and has violent tendencies. She feels dissatisfied and/or unwanted.
She doesn’t talk much. She stares a lot. And lately, she’s been staring through binoculars at the meadow beyond her house that leads to a scout camp in the woods.
Sam (Jared Gilman) is a scout at Camp Ivanhoe, where the dweeby/officious Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) attempts to run things with military precision – or at least as much precision as pre-teens can muster.
Sam is disliked by his fellow Scouts. He’s weird. He almost never takes off his coonskin cap. He wears a huge pair of spectacles that make him look like a baby owl. He's kinda cerebral, with a vast knowledge of arcane information.
We find out that he’s an orphan and that, in fact, his foster family doesn’t want him back at the end of summer.
Here’s the deal. Sam and Suzy met at a production of Benjamin Britten’s operetta “Noye’s Fludde (Noah’s Flood)” put on at the local church. Now they’re planning to run away together. They’ll use Sam’s scouting skills to survive in the forest; that, and the supplies they’ve amassed, like a stolen canoe, a tent, an air rifle and a battery-powered record player.
“Moonrise Kingdom” contrasts the frantic search for the missing youngsters (Bruce Willis plays the local law, a decent enough guy) with Suzy and Sam’s life among nature. While the grownups are stewing and bickering, Suzy is shedding her pink mini dress and saddle shoes so that she and Sam can frolic in their underwear. They're a pint-sized, pre-sexual Adam and Eve.
There are echoes here of Terrence Malick's "Badlands," what with our protagonists hiding out from civilization like gypsies in the woods and Anderson's bizarro choices in music. But "Moonrise Kingdom" finds a sweetness in Sam and Suzy's love that cuts through even the goofy humor.
Weird, yeah. But so lovely.