For some reason, I rarely go out of my way for Wes Anderson’s quirky, artfully composed films. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) may change this; what a wonderful, beautiful little story. It’s a simple but effective coming-of-age tale about two troubled kids: Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). An outcast in his “Khaki Scout” troop, Sam encounters Suzy at a church performance and the two become pen pals. Through their letters, they secretly arrange to run off together into the wilderness of the sparsely populated island on which they live. Their disappearance leads to a frantic search by the adults responsible for them, but not before they develop an intense emotional connection that will change their lives.
On paper, this is one of those movies I should have no interest in seeing, but I’m starting to trust Anderson’s unique sensibility. Moonrise Kingdom is charming, nostalgic, funny, moving stuff, thanks largely to Gilman and Hayward, who share a likeable oddball chemistry. Anderson deploys some high-powered adult talent to assist them — Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton — but the kids out-do them all. The rural 1960s backdrop is convincingly realized, and the era is sent up amusingly, particularly in the tough-talking paramilitary depiction of the scout organizations. (This angle provides the most comedy, and reminded me a little of Brick in its clever layering of adult tropes over a youth-oriented milieu.) This is also one of the most gorgeously put together films I’ve ever seen. The shots are meticulously composed, like paintings, and the cinematography is mesmerizing. Add a particularly effective soundtrack and uncommonly confident storytelling, and there’s little to find fault with here. A real gem, highly recommended.