It doesn’t take long to realize Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson production. Within a minute, the camera serves up the colorful, compressed shots that have become a trademark of the director’s work. In the past, those flattened spaces filled with cartoonish décor have created a clinical distance that’s entertaining, but cold. This latest feature, however, could be his most affective offering yet.
At its center is a love story between preteens Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (newcomer Kara Hayward, whose commanding presence rivals co-stars Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand). Though labeled as troubled, Sam and Suzy (imagine those monogrammed towels) are more precocious than tormented, each harboring a mildly existential dread of the future. And it only takes a fleeting glimpse at the grown-ups on their New England isle circa 1965 to understand why. Suzy’s parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), are lawyers with a faltering marriage. Foster kid Sam’s only role model is Khaki Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton), a textbook study in arrested development with a childish insistence on militant adherence to camping procedures.
Being raised by such flawed adults would make growing up difficult for even the most typical children; Sam and Suzy are anything but. With parents and institutions both failing them, the young lovebirds flee. Throughout their journey, youthful romance is depicted with just the right amount of sentiment. The pair’s affection is mature and restrained, displaying the empathy the island’s adult characters lack without too much mush. Even as threats to their relationship materialize — first from concerned parents, later from Hurricane Deus Ex Machina — Gilman and Hayward portray an impressively reverent devotion. As the storm ravages the picturesque island, Anderson wisely hints at an uncertain post-adolescent future beyond the film’s scope. But Moonrise Kingdom, with its dusty vintage hues and fantastical environs, relishes that remarkable moment of childhood where anything seems possible.