Wes Anderson’s films are so mannered, so twee, that to enjoy them seems to imply a certain psychological detachment from the real world. I am 100% fine with this. Screw the real world. If I had the option to live in Anderson’s fine realm of obsessive-compulsive wunderkinds, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Although I sincerely doubt I’d be able to keep up with them.
In Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s latest film and one of his best, we find yet another example of oppressively tidy and symmetrical production design, too-perfect costuming and awkward screwball dialogue. It would be cloying if Anderson didn’t keep finding new stories to tell within this milieu. Portraying characters who have absolute confidence in their natures and are laser-focused on their goals gives the director freedom to explore who they really are. None of this dilly-dallying with “refusing the call.” Young Sam wants to run away from summer camp to live in the woods with his pen pal girlfriend Suzy, so that’s just what he does. His campmates are so offended by his desertion that they want to hunt him down with deadly weapons and attack dogs, so that’s just what they do.
There’s a kindhearted intensity to Anderson’s movies that’s once again at play here. Just as Dignan was so determined to be a master criminal that he developed a five-year plan about it, so too does Ed Norton’s Scoutmaster Ward strive for what he must surely consider the ultimate summer camp experience, complete with overachieving tree houses and motorcycle maintenance. Sam’s rebellion strikes Ward’s very heart, for surely he mustn’t want to miss camp, while Sam’s acts of defiance provide the young lad, played by Jared Gilman, with the opportunity to be a modern (or at least mid-1960s) Davey Crocket, proving his naturalist prowess to his young girlfriend, Suzy, played by the dreamlike Kara Hayward.
While it may appear that Anderson is merely up to his old tricks in Moonrise Kingdom, the central relationship at the heart of it may be the most mature he’s ever captured. Though barely pubescent, Sam and Suzy freely express themselves and deal realistically from the fallout of their conversations. There’s love here, and a nascent sexuality that’s hard to ignore, but also a give-and-take between two fully realized characters falling in love. And although they may be young, the respect given to their courtship implies, beyond any childhood movie romance in my memory at least, that they might actually make it work as they grow older. These are people who, like the rest of Anderson’s characters, have the utmost confidence in who they are and how they live their lives. They’re better prepared for a long-term relationship than I am, and I’m already in one.
With Sam and Suzy acting as a sort of baseline, the rest of the Moonrise Kingdom’s cast is free to play their parts like they’re in a Max Fischer play. The depth given the protagonists implies an expansive inner world for even the broadest of caricatures, like Tilda Swinton’s “Social Services” (which is apparently her real name) or Harvey Keitel’s bullheaded scout leader, giving the cast a greater dramatic heft than most of Anderson’s previous work. The broad, archetypical characters are heightened, but they feel pure and real. And the story that they’re thrust into, simple though it may be, challenges each of them to live up to their chosen personae by overcoming genuine obstacles. As detached as the filmmaking sometimes appears, I daresay you can feel something pure coming off of the screen. Moonrise Kingdom is a stellar film.