Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking
1 hr. 34 mins.
There is something both silly and haunting about Moonrise Kingdom. Ordinarily, this would not be good news, but with director Wes Anderson in charge, it’s a perfectly normal combination.
Of course, you should understand that in Anderson’s films, plot and acting usually take a back seat. What’s more important are the tangled human and family connections he reveals — sometimes ironically, sometimes as farce, sometimes under great duress and pain.
The film, set in the late summer of 1965 on a small New England island called New Penzance, is about two troubled kids, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) and Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). Suzy is a parent’s worst nightmare, and Sam is a lonely orphan camping with a group called the Khaki Scouts.
By chance, they meet during a local theatrical production about Noah’s ark. After corresponding by mail, Sam asks Suzy to run off with him and hide out on the island. She agrees and packs her suitcase. The hunt is on.
Their disappearance sets their small town abuzz. Suzy’s parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), appeal to Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis), the island’s police chief, for help. Sam’s straight-laced troop leader, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), rallies his troops and sends out a search party. Meanwhile, the film’s narrator (Bob Balaban), warns of an approaching storm of epic proportions.
It might sound cheesy to say that this film is about capturing a moment of innocent love, but that seems to be Anderson’s point. In his mind, it’s too late for adults to go back and find that feeling. They’re already overwhelmed by insecurity and exhaustion.
But Sam and Suzy might still have a chance. Anderson hints that maybe there’s a single point in time when all kids discover and understand love, that is, before it lazily drifts off across the murky waters of adulthood. For Sam and Suzy, this is that point in time.
This is not about adult love. Their straightforward approach is more in the moment. Money, kids, career, not in the picture. Camping and catching fish, music, swimming, stories — this is what fills their lives.
As for the adults, their world is squared off and suffocating. Even the act of talking has become labored and stilted. When Suzy and Sam run away, the grownups’ predictable world order shatters like a dropped wine glass. Yes, the adults desperately work to put the glass back together, but it’s too late. Love has divided and conquered.
If you’ve seen other Anderson films like The Darjeeling Limited or The Life Aquatic, you’ll know what I mean when I say that understatement is his mode of operation. Anderson always runs a fine line between subtle and dry. In this case, he’s successfully navigated subtle and even thrown in a bit of slapstick.
It works. The film is touching. Suzy and Sam manage to win the day with performances that are equal parts funny and tender. And while their earnestness may collide with the absurdity of an adult world that has bound itself to structure and given up on love, at least Anderson builds in enough emotional truth on both sides to make his premise plausible.
It also works because the writing of Anderson and Roman Coppola is sharp, and the cast play their roles straight. No one is allowed to preen or smirk, not even Murray. The dialogue may be funny. The ingrown reality of this isolated world is not.
This is not a screaming ha-ha kind of film. This is a watch carefully and catch the joke kind of film. It requires patience and a willingness to go with the flow. Its observations remind us of what learning to fall in love was before all our grownup expectations piled on. Anderson seems to recall this fondly. The question he asks us is: Do we?