Moonrise Kingdom is a quirky comedy-drama that overcomes any objections you might have to its potentially queasy subject matter of two twelve year olds falling in love by its unpredictable and consistently charming script, some deftly deadpan performances by a supporting cast of old pros and above all the great natural beauty of its location: a lush and largely unspoiled island off New England, the lovely primary-coloured houses, school halls and police stations of which house a reassuringly eclectic assortment of oddballs. Amongst the latter we find two sympathetic and somewhat unfulfilled authority figures in the shape of Bruce Willis’s police officer Captain Sharp and Edward Norton’s scoutmaster Randy Ward. It’s these two who have to launch an island-wide hunt when precocious orphan Sam absconds from scout camp with Suzy, the daughter of a pair of brittle and argumentative lawyers. For added drama, an on-screen narrator pops up to inform us that a major storm is on its way.
Director Wes Anderson has always taken a mannered and stylised approach to his various accounts of troubled well-heeled families, which has in my view generally made for films that are gorgeous to look at but often difficult to properly engage with as the characters tend to be irritatingly insular, over-articulate and selfish. In this respect Moonrise Kingdom isn’t any great departure, but it’s somehow a lot more involving than the other Anderson films I’ve seen, maybe because the storyline is relatively linear and kicks in straight away, and maybe because it’s a lot easier to believe in a self-absorbed pair of lead characters if they happen to be children. Sam is a bespectacled and slightly smarmy geek, but he’s a resourceful one and displays courage and initiative at more than one crisis point while Suzy is unhappy and misunderstood, but more than willing to take the chance to break free from her lonely life when someone ready to take her on an adventure turns up. The scenes of the couple getting to know each other could easily have seemed embarrassing or exploitative so its nice to report that they’re actually quite sweet, with young actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward acquitting themselves well.
Moonrise Kingdom comes in at a commendably brisk 94 minutes, and after all the meteorological hints dropped at the start you can kind of guess the nature of the climax, although the through-route of the plot may surprise you. Fans of Bill Murray will want to see this just for another variation on his world-weary schtick, and you’re never going to do better for a starchy social services representative than Tilda Swinton, but it’s surprisingly Bruce Willis who turns out to be the heart of the film, and he doesn’t even get to defuse any bombs. Above all, this is worth a watch just for the scenery: coastlines, meadows, forests and pleasingly precisely maintained scout camps. And the font used for the credits is divine.