By MICHAEL WALTERS
Wes Anderson’s films have always taken place in a storybook world all his own. The visual affectations of his style often hide an emotional undercurrent of sadness but not despair. His characters know life’s disappointments and have either come to grips or are coming to grips with their own failings. There can be a sense of ironic detachment in his films, though his characters use it as a coping device to help them get through if not solve the big problems of their individual worlds.
Anderson himself has called “Moonrise Kingdom” a memory of a fantasy, and it has the hazy qualities one associates with a powerful experience that gets rosier and more alluring the older it gets. The film centers on Sam and Suzy, two 12-year-olds from very different backgrounds who feel an instant connection and fall in love. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan and khaki scout at a summer camp on an island in 1965. He longs for companionship and an environment where he is accepted and loved. Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the reclusive daughter of two lawyers (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) who live on the island. Their own failed marriage has become a shining example of what not to do and she also seeks an environment where she is accepted for who she is and loved unconditionally.
Sam promptly escapes from his summer camp and runs away with Suzy to a remote part of the island. The pair is awkward, and endearing without being cloying. He is a bespectacled know it all who hasn’t yet mastered the social skills needed to succeed in summer camp. She is tall, intellectual and full of promise and could easily pass for a younger version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Margot from “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
Anderson gets fine work from many of his usual regulars, including Murray, and Jason Schwartzman in a small but memorable role. But Bruce Willis and Edward Norton deliver some excellent performances as well. Willis gets behind the smirk he’s used in so many films to do some real acting as a small town sheriff looking for the missing boy who also happens to have an affectation for the young kids plight. While Norton is a khaki scout leader desires order in his scouting life to help offset the dissatisfaction with the disorder of his own personal life.
While Anderson’s style is unmistakable, he has managed to continue to grow as a filmmaker. Moonrise Kingdom is a storybook fantasy full of innocence, wonder, and the exciting promise of a new beginning that ranks as one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the movies all year.