Like most critics that have reviewed Moonrise Kingdom I am as gung-ho about it as Edward Norton’s Scout Master Ward is about the Khaki Scout movement he earnestly serves. It is a lyrical visual marvel.
Wes Anderson’s seventh feature film (his first since the delightful 2009 animated flick Fantastic Mr. Fox and his latest live-action piece since The Darjeeling Limited five years ago) has among its ample bag of goodies a soundtrack that may be the 43-year-old filmmaker’s best mix of musical selections since Rushmore (1998). What mind could conceive of Benjamin Britton, Hank Williams and Alexandre Desplat (with a soupçon of Françoise Hardy for seasoning) harmoniously coinciding in the dish Moonrise Kingdom serves up? Happily for us the mind of the auteur that literally and figuratively burst onto the scene in 1996 with Bottle Rocket did.
I’ve long felt cinematically speaking that if Stanley Kubrick (in a Dr. Strangelove state of mind) had fathered a pop-art son whose uncle was François Truffaut the result would have been Anderson. His autumn-approaches mise-en-scène, shot in 16 millimeter with graceful precision by Robert Yeoman, provides a colorful, carefully-ordered visual palette for a well-focused humor-filled script by Anderson and Roman Coppola.
The story centers on 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy – played by terrific newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward – that fall in love and run away on the (fictional) New Penzance Island off the coast of New England in September 1965. The film’s narrator (deliciously played with his trademark deadpan hilarity by Bob Balaban) lets us quickly know our young lovers aren’t creating the only tempest in the area as residents and authorities are marshaled to find them; there’s a nasty storm brewing off-shore that’s going to leave the formerly tranquil isle in chaotic shape before it passes.
Two familiar faces in Anderson’s visual repertory company dot the landscape for this outing and they certainly don’t disappoint: Bill Murray is the depressed father of Suzy who struggles along with his neglected wife (played to subtle perfection by Frances McDormand) to understand why their routine-dominated lives are coming unglued. And Jason Schwartzman plays for laughs – and succeeds in that goal – as the worldly scout leader Cousin Ben.
Bruce Willis is the cast’s pleasant surprise as gentle law-and-order man Captain Sharp. There is no remnant of Die Hard or (mercifully) Hudson Hawk in this performance like so many of his other film appearances; understated suits him well.
The aforementioned Norton is a gem as a beleaguered leader of young men, and others in the cast’s mix of vets and youngsters acquit themselves well. My only concern lies with the supremely talented Tilda Swinton. I generally gush about her work, but as the essentially nameless Social Services there’s nothing to really connect with in the bureaucratic archetype she presents. That’s likely the choice left her by the script, but it still leaves one wanting more.
It would spoil some fun by revealing who the unbilled commander of the Khaki Scouts is. I’ll just write that the casting of that role is another wonderful riff on the film’s regular refrain of absurdity.
What ultimately provides the glue for this movie, though, is the milk of human kindness that’s been an integral part of Anderson’s cinematic storytelling from the start of his career. Moonrise Kingdom is indeed a marvel for all its narrative-supporting precision, but its memorable beauty comes from the lyrical heart its creator has provided.
Moonrise Kingdom (http://www.moonrisekingdom.com/) is now screening in Nashville at the Belcourt Theatre (http://www.belcourt.org/), 2102 Belcourt Ave. It’s also playing at the Regal Opry Mills Stadium 20 (www.regmovies.com), 570 Opry Mills Dr., and the Carmike Thoroughbred 20 (www.carmike.com), 633 Frazier Dr. in Franklin. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking, 110 min. Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Roman Coppola. Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman.