The new Wes Anderson movie is certainly a richer pastiche than anything else you’ll see at the multiplex this season. And in its Andersonian manner, Moonrise Kingdom is a nourishing regressive pleasure, a sort of summer movie for grown-ups. Yes, the manner is mannered, but the intention is noble: to affirm the dignity of escapism by direct example.
And so we find the New England island town of “New Penzance” sent into mild upheaval when a serious and sensitive Boy Scout (Jared Gilman) runs away with the headstrong misfit girl he decides he loves (Kara Hayward). This being a Wes Anderson movie, the kids are precocious; it feels good and righteous to root for them, like reclaiming those pre-adult prerogatives regrettably ceded to the pose of maturity. Wasn’t summer once supposed to be about the pure liberty of endless possibilities?
Anderson still knows better than anybody how to survey the cusp of adolescence with all the existential angst of a mid-life crisis, and for relief’s sake, to salt his findings with droll irony. Co-written with Roman Coppola, set in the 1960s, and shot by Anderson’s regular cinematographer Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom accommodates not just retro flourishes of Euro-mod chic, but also the emotional aura of some wistfully remembered Charlie Brown holiday special. Habitually, Anderson revels in bric-a-brac production design, eloquent riffs on stagings from his earlier films, and a tendency to arrange his stars—Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis—in handsome tableaux. The filmmaker’s musical affinities lean toward English composers; sometimes it seems like instead of a full film narrative he should’ve just tried a music video for the entirety of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. Which, of course, would be fantastic.
But the movie’s characters—in particular its refreshingly un-actorly protagonists, so poignantly and palpably unformed, nicely set off against all that art direction—seem quite helpfully, people-like. All the grown-ups are in some way hapless, and therefore implicitly obliging to the youngsters’ enterprise. With heart-swelling sympathy and sincerity, Norton, as the scoutmaster, redeems potential caricature, and Willis stands out as the cop, a melancholy and reflective figure of earned adult authority. “It takes time to figure things out,” he advises the boy, tenderly.
That might also be Anderson talking to himself. Moonrise Kingdom has a welcome new allowance of naturalness, particularly in landscape and weather. It is another of Anderson’s dollhouses, unavoidably, but with its windows open and without any shortage of fresh air in circulation. If Anderson now lacks the will to innovate, he has traded it for the real benefit of relaxing into vision refinement. Now we know for sure that he makes movies, even summer movies, the way he must.