Wes Anderson, the cinema's Tsar of Twee, takes on young-younger-youngest love and making rebellious square pegs fit into round holes with Moonrise Kingdom, his latest venture into the dark and the daft.
And if it's not as deft as his most adorable confections (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox), it has plenty to chew on and chuckle over for initiates in the Cult of Wes.
It's 1965, and orphaned Sam (Jared Gilman) is the odd man out at Scout camp. So Sam, smart but "troubled," takes the wood lore he has learned during the summer and makes his escape. He can't get far. Camp Ivanhoe is on remote Penzance Island off the coast of New England.
But then, he doesn't want to go far. He's meeting Suzy (Kara Hayward), his pen-pal love who is quietly revolting against her own family on the other end of the island. Her lawyer parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) are fit to be tied. Sam's scoutmaster (a chain-smoking Edward Norton) organizes Khaki Scout search parties. The other Khaki Scouts want to know, "Are we allowed to use force?"
Suzy's mom is carrying on with the island's sole police officer (Bruce Willis). And the narrator (Bob Balaban, a perfect surrogate for Anderson) informs us that one of the biggest storms of the last half of the 20th century is bearing down on them all.
Let the wild rumpus begin.
The young couple camp out, with Suzy reading from her favorite fantasy novels and playing her favorite French chanteuse on a battery-powered record player. Enterprising Sam impresses her with his scouting skills: "Watch out for turtles. They'll bite you if you put your finger in their mouths."
Suzy packed her kitten in her dad's fishing creel. Anderson, who co-wrote this, must have loved how that looked on the page: "Kitten pokes head through the creel."
The adults get frantic, the storm rolls in, the kids have their violent moments and their acts of remorse.
Often, somebody says something clever or something that plays clever because of the way the line is acted and the scene is edited.
Moonrise is an uneasy blend of winking nostalgia (the mock militarism of Scout camp), innocent first love remembered and sentimentalizing the "different." It's very much an adult film. Sam does watercolor nudes of Suzy, and the film pairs these 12-year-olds in sexual situations that have them in their underwear. Anderson might not have thought of it this way, but that stuff plays as creepy no matter how innocent his intentions.
His love of ad-hoc families — creating community out of the people who are available — and the DIY look to the thing, along with the deadpan presence of Murray and Jason Schwartzman (very funny as a supposed adult who runs the supply store at a nearby camp for older kids), mark this as distinctly Andersonian.
I've always loved his droll sense of the silly, the way he counterpoints the goofy happenings onscreen with old Hank Williams tunes: Kaw-liga for woodlands adventure scenes, Cold Cold Heart for a break-up moment.
When Anderson misses the mark — in Darjeeling Limited or The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou — he's like the Coen brothers in an off year or Woody Allen in a bad decade, an overly precious artist giggling at his own jokes.