Part coming-of-age story and part comedy of manners, Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” chronicles the adventurous romance of two young lovers on a fictional island off the coast of New England. Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman lead a star-studded supporting cast including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton.
In the summer of 1965, precocious 12-year-old Sam Shakosky (Gilman) executes a well-planned escape from his Khaki Scout troop in order to rendezvous with his pen pal and crush, Suzy Bishop (Hayward). With the help of Sam’s superior wilderness skills, the two fugitives make their way across the island while evading the clutches of the various locals out to reign them in, which include Scout Master Ward (Norton) and the rest of Troop 55, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Murray and McDormand) and local police Captain Sharp (Willis).
Alone together, Sam and Suzy bond over a mutual penchant for getting in trouble and feeling like an outsider — he as a foster child and she for getting into fights at school. She shares with him her favorite books (stolen from the library, no less) while he, a budding renaissance man, paints watercolors of her against the beautiful New England scenery. Yet just as they realize their true love for each other, the search party catches up and forces them apart. But, as young people are wont to do, Sam and Suzy scheme up ways to be reunited, even in the face of an aggressive social services agent (Swinton) who threatens to take Sam away. Meanwhile, a hurricane brews just off the coast and promises to shake things up even more for the tiny, insular community.
Awash in the vintage, sepia-toned look that Anderson favors, “Moonrise Kingdom” is less of a period piece than merely an extension of the quirky, off-kilter realities that the director brings to the screen. (His previous works include “The Darjeeling Limited” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”) But as kitschy as his latest film is, it feels more grown up and thorough than anything else he has produced to date, perhaps, in a way, representing a certain coming of age for the director as well as the characters.
As a twist on the “Romeo and Juliet” forbidden love story, “Moonrise Kingdom” succeeds in capturing the playful earnestness and awkwardness of budding romance without being overly sentimental. Juxtaposed with the adults in the film, who are portrayed as incompetent, inept and forever loveless (the failure of the Bishops’ marriage is a recurring theme), Sam and Suzy make admirable heroes for taking their fate into their own hands. So if they take themselves a little too seriously, it’s only because, well, they’re a lot more adult than the real grown-ups around them.
Anderson fans will be satisfied with the impeccable ensemble casting and the evolution of his storytelling, and as for everyone else — here’s your chance to jump on the bandwagon.
“Moonrise Kingdom” hits theaters June 1.