The matinee audience with whom this writer saw Moonrise Kingdom earlier this week just wasn’t prepared for it. Expecting heaven-knows-what, they sat in a state of stupefaction not knowing exactly what they were seeing.
Was it supposed to be “serious?” Was it supposed to be “funny?” Visually, Moonrise Kingdom is as stylized and unrealistic as an old-fashioned child’s storybook. Its scenes are brief and elliptical, its characters deadpan and cryptic, its trajectory uncertain. After about 20 minutes, my TV-conditioned audience loosened up, began to chuckle (sometimes uncertainly), and finally just let the movie be itself.
A good decision, because by my lights, Wes Anderson is the most original writer-director we have, yet he’s still on the cusp of name recognition. His movies are filled with quirky charms and never once really touch reality, except in terms of themes and leitmotifs. They go their own way, somehow sticking in your memory, becoming more admirable the day after you see them. They tell the truth about human nature but without employing the conventional hand of “Realism.”
Actors now volunteer to appear in Anderson’s movies. Here Bruce Willis reminds us he can really act. Bill Murray, an Anderson regular, soars. Ed Norton does a near-perfect turn as a nerdy Scoutmaster. Frances McDormand appears as an unfaithful wife given to calling her children with an electronic megaphone from within the house. Harvey Keitel turns in an unbilled appearance. And the great Tilda Swinton makes the very most of a cameo role as a Social Services witch.
Did I just write “witch”? Yep, because this film is a fable sweet and not so simple: Its true main characters are a pair of l2-year-olds in the throes of first love, fleeing the complicated world of unhappy adults, using Scout lore and fantasy novels as their guides. Played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, untutored actors who’ve never done a movie before, their innocence pays off: The performances are fresh and unfettered by actorish technique.
The runaways–she’s escaping difficult parents and he’s resigning from his Khaki Scouts troop–follow an old Indian trail on the island off the coast of New England where everyone lives. They hope to be married … and are, sort of. Pursued by the Scout troop, bad boyz, and befuddled grown ups, the kids come of age in ways funny and sweet and smart, making the movie shine. Estranged from “normal” life (as all of Anderson’s characters are in movie after movie), they long to be belong to something better, somewhere.
A kind of fairy tale, the original story and script eschew moralizing and finger-wagging. Some incidents seem realistic, but many are not, nor meant to be. The movie is about “life” but it does not replicate it. An audience over-conditioned by conventional films may find it baffling at first, and there will be those who absolutely hate or are bored by its fey charms.
But you really ought to judge for yourself, because Moonrise can be, for the right audience, charming and maddeningly delightful. I’m convinced it will be become a classic like the director’s The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore.