Even diehard fans might feel skeptical clouds forming overhead during the first five minutes of this eventually blissful re-admittance into Wes Anderson Land. We’ve seen a lot of these tricks before: the camera taking us on a one-take tour of the Bishop family’s island home is exactly like the cut-away version of Steve Zissou’s ship in Life Aquatic. The numbly preoccupied children we meet veer far too close to the majestically dysfunctional Royal Tenenbaums brood. And when Bob Balaban pops up as the stocking-cap–clad narrator (again like Aquatic), it starts to feel like Anderson is merely recycling his idiosyncratic tics. Even the great deadpan himself Bill Murray seems more rerun than revelation.
But stay tuned: The rest of the film crescendos into cinematic wonder. The story follows two troubled and intelligent kids, Sam and Suzy (played by absolute beginners Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), who fall in love at first sight and disrupt their entire fictional Atlantic island home (the smartly named New Penzance). Sam abruptly quits the Khaki Scouts to rendezvous with Suzy, eventually setting up a love nest at the terminus of a Native American harvest trail. This being Anderson, we’re in for a bracing mix of unexpected spectacle and sudden shocks of mortality. But it’s the little period details that dazzle: ubiquitous cigarettes, a portable record player blaring Benjamin Britten’s symphony for children (stay for the credits), underscored by the mood of American conformity that haunts the lovelorn landscape. Prepare yourself for gratuitous surreal stuff, too, like Jason Schwartzman officiating a seriously strange wedding ceremony for the kids.
Like all of Anderson’s films since Rushmore, this is a fable of the lonely pains and stray joys of creative people driven to art. Significantly, it ends with a storm, and then Sam creates a painting that neatly explains the film’s title. Ultimately, Moonrise Kingdom disappears into itself, which is, for my money, art at its best, the crossing place where we go to be absorbed by a few graceful moments.