An AWOL Khaki Scout and his sweetheart commit probably the most adorable elopement ever put on screen in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, the latest in the auteur's ever-growing portfolio of exacting comedies, wherein subdued youthful angst and emotional exploration manifest themselves in a case of love on the run, sending shock waves through the cozily contained island community of New Penzance.
The two absconders in question are 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy, exquisitely played by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward with a precocious, self-aware deadpan intended to serve Anderson and cowriter Roman Coppola's deliberately eccentric dialogue. He, an orphan who can't seem to make friends even among his fellow Khaki Scouts as they're so called (not to be confused with Baden-Powell's boys), and she, frustrated and smothered by a family composed of three banal brothers and lawyer parents who parley in legal jargon without a trace of irony or affection, have in common that they're both social outsiders, and both may be, as others perceive them to be, “emotionally disturbed” – but really, who wasn't at that age? Perhaps emotionally curious is a better way of summing it up, after a chance meeting at a church pageant followed by an intimate pen pal correspondence prompts them one summer to runaway together, certain that whatever existence they forge for themselves in the coastal wilderness of their island home will be happier than the ones they currently lead.
But storm clouds loom, both literally in the form of an impending hurricane which Anderson cleverly evokes to add a sense of urgency to the narrative, and metaphorically in the form of the many frazzled players whose search for the missing twosome circles in ever closer on their beach-side campsite, which may as well be their unofficial honeymoon destination. Sam and Suzy's chaste love affair equates to pseudo matrimony (a motif taken to a delectably literal extent in the third act), finding oneness of their adolescent bodies, minds, and souls in each other's company. Although they're too young to understand it, they can tell that they're soul mates. Anderson even makes a visual point of it by giving Sam a thick pair of Coke bottle glasses and Suzy an even thicker pair of binoculars through which the guarded girl can view people at a safe distance.
As precious as the story is, Anderson does not shy away from undercurrents of more severity, from bullying to adultery to violence to emotional neglect, but it's clear that he has no intention of making such themes a burden on his charming romance. It's written throughout with Anderson's typical brand of light humour without hinging on hysteria, although some of the frantic slapstick of the climax feels a tad out of place. The cast is a splendid one, replete with tickling performances from Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand as Suzy's legality citing parents, Bruce Willis as a sad but sympathetic cop (and maybe the one grownup who actually identifies with the kids), and Edward Norton as Sam's fastidious Scout Master. Fans of Anderson's cosmetic style will find great delight in discovering the world of New Penzance. Adam Stockhausen's quaint diorama sets pop with colour and texture, and are custom built to accommodate Anderson's proclivity for symmetrical picture book compositions (shot here by Robert Yeoman).
With nary a sight, sound, or moment wasted, Moonrise Kingdom charms nostalgic viewers into recalling the pang of youthful loneliness and the touch of first love. While the stylization may cause the feeling of the film to not ring true for some, one can't help but sense a kernel of earnestness behind the cute window dressings.
**** out of ****