The films of Wes Anderson tend to revel in their own cleverness, sometimes at the expense of realistic characters and big laughs.
“Moonrise Kingdom,” however, is sure to please longtime Anderson fans while also appealing to many of his detractors. It’s his most accessible — and flat-out best — film yet.
Sure, it’s still quirky, stylized and absurd, but it’s beautifully filmed and not so clever and self-important that it interferes with the story or the characters.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is set on an isolated island off the coast of New England in 1965 and focuses on a pair of 12-year-old outsiders.
Sam is a misfit scout — a bespectacled, coonskin cap-wearing orphan wise in the ways of the forest but ridiculed by his fellow scouts and unwanted by his foster family. Suzy is pretty but friendless, raised in a dysfunctional home with lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and dealing with anger-management issues.
The two decide to run away together — he with full camping supplies, her with a cat and a battery-operated record player — and they have to elude the pursuit of a motley posse while simultaneously learning a little something about young love.
The movie is warm and sentimental, marked with deadpan and dark humor. First-timers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are excellent as the two naive young leads, and as usual, Anderson has built a sterling supporting cast.
Bruce Willis is understated as the lonely small-town sheriff. McDormand and Murray are perfectly matched as Suzy’s distant but concerned parents.
Edward Norton is earnest without being too goofy as the scout leader who musters his reluctant troops to find their AWOL member. Harvey Keitel is his superior, and Tilda Swinton is the somewhat villainous woman from social services.
Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman is also around, in a small but funny role.
“Moonrise Kingdom” still won’t be for everyone’s tastes, and though the story revolves around tweens, it might be too smart and complex for some less discriminating members of that particular age group.
Overall, however, it’s another leap forward for Anderson. If he’s got better films in him, I can’t wait to see them.
Rental Recommendation: Anderson’s first animated film, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was a clear success. Grade: A-
Starring: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Edward Norton
Rated: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)
Running time: 93 minutes
Email Steve Ouellette at: email@example.com