There are some movies that inspire adoration from their very first moments, that simply feel exactly right. That’s what happened when I saw Wes Anderson’s sophomore effort, Rushmore. I truly thought that would be a one-of-a-kind experience from the director, especially as his very particular brand of pinched emotion and tightrope whimsy became a little more strained with every outing. Oh me of little faith. From the very beginning of Moonrise Kingdom, with Bob Balaban calmly, sagely explaining the world of New Penzance, Anderson offers a pitch-perfect delivery of an enchanting tone, spirit and rhythm that is uniquely his own, as if the boundless freedom of French New Wave was swirled together with the plasticine Americana recognizable to any survivor of the seventies. When he’s on, no director combines energy with placidity like Anderson. And when he’s really on, he infuses that with a surprising depth of emotion.
In the case of Moonrise Kingdom, the emotion comes from the fugitive romance between Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), a couple of kids on the cusp of adolescence who abscond to a secret cove where they can listen to records and read fantastical books, swapping stories of their own personal sadness along the way. As with Rushmore, the impetuousness of youthful romance suits Anderson. All the emotions are so intensely out in the open, every last moment carries so much weight. There’s also a different resiliency in place within the kids, an ability to ride the currents of life that eludes those in adulthood, exemplified by the characters played by Bill Murray (Suzy’s father) and Bruce Willis (the local police captain), both of them cloaked in their own version of smothering disappointment. By trying to escape their fates, Sam and Suzy are ahead of their elders.
Beyond these elements, Moonrise Kingdom is also terrifically funny, skating between truthful humor and the exaggerated tomfoolery of fable, where lightning can strike at any moment and a treehouse might be built at an unsafe altitude. The writing by Anderson, co-credited alongside Roman Coppola, is beautifully precise, immersed in character and enraptured by language. They continually find their way to beautiful oddities, moments that somehow manage to be piercing, no matter how unlikely it may seem. Making a twelve-year-old pointedly asking, “What kind of bird are you?” into the most splendid pick-up line to be heard in a movie in ages is the sort of little miracle that only Anderson could conjure up. I may have been disappointed before, but I clearly never should have doubted his unique wizardry.