‘MOONRISE KINGDOM’ is a subtle and touching exploration of companionship, confidence, and place that resonates with earnest, honest humanity. And this is odd, given that Wes Anderson’s precious direction regularly threatens to overshadow and obscure simply everything. From its opening frames and the fey tinkling of its score, it is instantly recognizable as an Anderson film: stagy, highly stylized tableaus, compulsively symmetrical cinematography, an ostentatiously nostalgic color palate, and brimming with minutely pregnant pauses that precede evenly delivered, succinctly soul-baring observations. Indeed, these traits are so rife in the film that it is difficult to look past them and even harder for the actors to transcend their set-pieces.
But this approach is inextricable from the film, which the opening sequence makes clear. Comprised of a lengthy montage of pans and cross-sections of a multi-story house, it is an ingenious introduction into the Bishop family: two loveless lawyers who refer to one another as ‘counsel’ (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray are splendidly world-weary with themselves and each other), their indistinguishable gaggle of boys, and a standoffish daughter in Suzy, full of adolescent rebellion and a polka dot pink dress. An early shot in this montage shows her manipulating—hardly playing—with a doll house that look not unlike her own dwelling, and the implications are clear. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is a moving picture book, or a dollhouse, into which the audience peers from a straight-ahead angle and enlivens with a fantasy for children that only adults would have.
For, although the love story at the center of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ concerns two children—Suzy and the slightly mushy but winsome outcast Sam–their motivations, intentions, and perspective bear little resemblance to “real” children, even if their actions may be similar. Admittedly, given the preponderance of young actors, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ manages to keep a very level head. And though a diction coach would have been helpful for some, all did manage to deliver their lines as if they understood the words. Yet the screenwriters’ hands are always highly visible, and we are never allowed to forget that it is their adult story merely being told through the more inherently sympathetic guise of children. The absconding lovers’ actions won’t resonate with children as anything more than a fun adventure, free of parental supervision or reproach; but for adults, it is a sweetly nostalgic paean to innocence, simple devotion, and a fated, chivalrous kind of romance wholly absent from every adult relationship in the film. This young kind of love is celebrated, even as it is does not (cannot, is not allowed to) endure. Until, that is, the dollhouse expands into a church, the plot takes on several more coy layers of metaphor, and Bruce Willis’ skills as a dramatic thespian are stretched to their modest limits. And then we are allowed to leave.
For all these passing shots at Anderson’s direction, he does create a precise and sometimes precarious atmosphere that few other directors could claim to match. Few, too, are the films that can kill a dog with an arrow through the neck and still leave us with wooly charms and aspirations of exploration. And so ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ fills us with the simple, spreading joy of spontaneity, but also the lingering quiet of a looming loss. It is an affecting, yet somewhat manufactured strain of nostalgia that suits this Instagram era, wherein experiences are canonized as memory and missed—even as they are experienced.