Some may argue that idiosyncratic director Wes Anderson’s style trumps his storytelling. That his playful tone is too surreal or emotionless.
But he has built a loyal following through such wonderfully quirky (an overused word but one that wholly fits here) films as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” and the animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
He likes to use long, single takes. He likes to let his camera zoom into settings. And he inhabits his worlds with characters that are flawed, selfish, annoying and not rooted in the “real” world. Even so, a playful charm and subtle humor permeate Anderson’s films. His work is also visually arresting and inventive.
But, yes, he seems fully self-aware of his filmmaking, and sometimes that can distract from the story at hand. The craft sometimes becomes too obvious.
But with his latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson strikes an even chord in style and story. They complement each other nicely, and for the first time, he achieves a wistful sweetness. Fans will be pleased.
This is by far his most ambitious film, set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965.
At the core of the story are two 12-year-olds: Sam (Jared Gilman), a misfit “Khaki Scout” who has just escaped from his troop, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), a precocious girl given to fits of rage who has just run away from an overcrowded home.
They’ve secretly fallen in love through exchanged letters, and set off to live together in the wilderness.
But hot on their trail is Scout Master Ward (a game Edward Norton), who rallies the remaining troop members (who don’t really like Sam much) to do an exhaustive search over the rough terrain.
Suzy’s attorney parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray), rally the local authority, Capt. Sharp (a nicely subdued Bruce Willis), to help them in their search, and soon the peaceful town is in disarray.
But a violent storm is on the way, and as the authorities and the parents close in, Sam and Suzy must decide what lengths they will go to to be together.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is at times laugh-out-loud funny, but mostly is peppered with amusing lines or situations, per typical Anderson trademarks. The story does edge into the fantastical, but Anderson embraces it.
And thanks to fantastic performances all around (and some nice subplots), the film emerges as warm and surprisingly poignant, given its whimsy.
For while Anderson’s films have always been smart — this one has heart.