In Moonrise Kingdom, writer-director Wes Anderson brings his mannered quirk sensibility to bear on yet another storybook for adults. After meeting at church musical production of the story of Noah’s Ark, emotionally wounded preteens Sam and Suzy begin a romantic correspondence by mail. He, a precocious orphan and accomplished boy scout, and she, a brooding daughter of two lawyers who especially likes fantasy novels, agree to abscond from their respective communities to meet secretly and go on an adventure together. The rest of the film splits its time between their journey and the adults leading the search for the missing children.
The year is 1965, and Suzy and Sam’s homes and adventure are confined to the New England island of New Penzance. Along with the children’s self-initiated liberation from their homes comes the liberation of Anderson’s camera from the angular interior spaces he so often favors. He still clearly takes formalist delight in the organization of the scout camp and the layout of Suzy’s home, but in Moonrise more than ever before does he reveal himself to be an inspired filmographer of land and seascapes. The images have less the dainty dollhouse feel of some of his earlier compositions (see, especially, The Royal Tenenbaums) and more the shape and color of naturalist paintings one might expect to find in the living rooms and foyers of seaside New England homes.
As a result the children’s adventure feels ever more an escape into something wild and beautiful, even as their evident personal wounds and naivete complicate the situation. The film wrings great joys through its romantic celebration of the individual and the need to be deeply understood by another person. Perhaps more interestingly, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola display authorial maturity by thematically balancing that celebration via the reconciliation of individual and community which concerns the latter half of the film. During the church-roof-set climax, law enforcement (Bruce Willis), legal professionals (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and community leaders (Ed Norton) are all working together to save Sam not only from his destructive impulses but also from the bureaucratically inhumane processing threatened by the interest of Social Services (Tilda Swinton). It’s Noah’s Ark full circle, children and adults jumbled together for mutual security in the midst of a storm.
As romantically poignant as the film may be, something was lost for me in its stylized jokiness. Anderon’s visual formalism and deadpan humor have before worked well to heighten the poignancy of his stories. The pacing of Moonrise Kingdom, however, clips by at such an efficient speed that many of the visual cues and one-liners feel like the overstuffed punch-lines of a zany comedy. The material, cleverly and sensitively conceived as it may be, needs more room to breathe than the running time (a flat ninety minutes before the credits roll) really allows. Moonrise, romantic and visually rapturous, feels edited within an inch of its life. It needs more of the dull moments, more of the quiet and mysterious times that make up life and good stories in order to be the romantic adventure it aspires to. Unfortunately those much-need pauses in the film’s momentum seem to have been left on the cutting room floor. In the end, the film left me in awe of its story but emotionally distant from its telling.