A confectioner with all the time in the world, Wes Anderson's latest cinematic pastry is a work of obsessive detailing and characteristically artful icing, all colours and dreamy sequences and frames good enough to eat.
Yet Moonrise Kingdom -- which manages the stunning feat of being both entirely unreal as well as entirely relatable, both the stuff of children as well as the yearning of ex-children -- is one of the director's most emotionally fulfilling films, a curio-box cranked to play a tune good enough to moisten the eye. There is a spectacular amount of icing, to be sure, but the film merits every bit of this garnish.
For it is also, remarkably enough, a fully-realised and quite overwhelming love story: a romance for the ages that also just happens to be an underage romance. Anderson's film is about two 12 year olds in love, an idea those of us exiled from Neverland look at with naturally indulgent smiles, as if they're misguided, as if they have no concept of romantic commitment, as if they don't know what love is -- and, absurdly enough, as if we know better.
The two are, makers of people-sized pigeonholes would say, a maladjusted pair. We're told neither has the capacity to be truly happy, and it is indeed true they smile much less than one would expect. And yet, as they adventurously and consistently brave mountainous odds just to be together, we see every disapproving adult in the film cutting increasingly pathetic figures even as these two turn out to be lovers worth rooting for. The only reason the grown-ups in the film or in the audience may either disapprove or misunderstand is sheer envy toward what Sam and Suzy have.
The year is 1965, and a khaki scout hikes expertly across a fictional island, his truantry taking him right to a girl he'd met the year before, dressed as a raven in a production of Noah's Ark. Letters -- and nude sketches -- were exchanged, and the two decided to run away, setting off a most preposterous chain of events involving the girls' parents, a sincere police Captain, the violence-loving scouts eager to hunt down one formerly of their own, their woeful Scout Master, a pair of left-handed scissors and one helluva hurricane. With a plot meaty enough to work when read aloud by campfire, Anderson's film is thrilling as can be, looking delicious every step of the way.
At some point, during an undoubtedly thrilling skirmish Anderson chooses not to show us, a dog is shot through the neck and killed. The saddened lovers look down at the corpse of the puppy called Snoopy, and Suzy wonders if he was a good dog. "Who's to say?" says Sam, solemn as can be. Who, indeed? Is it 'good' for Suzy's identikit kid-brothers
to diligently listen to classical music records and turn promptly up at mealtimes? Is it 'bad' that Sam smokes a corn pipe? They just do, and he just does, in the manner of Huckleberry Finn. We best just marvel at what they get up to.
And there is much to gape at. Levitating lozenge-coloured luggage, a narrator with a stop-light red overcoat, a Bondi-blue (and battery operated) record player, an out-of-shape father turning into a liquored-up lumberjack to cope with his outlandish life. Much, in short, for cinematographer Robert Yeoman to capture and captivate with. The way the film looks is as critical as the film itself. Even Sam, otherwise persnickety and most careful about covering up his tracks, at some point loses composure and furiously rifles through his things hunting for something most vital: we later see it's mustard he wants to put on hot dogs. Perfection, see? (Given this is an Anderson character in a wishful, wistful film, I suspect that may have more to do with colour as taste.)
A significant part of the enchantment is born out of Alexander Desplat's score, beautiful compositions skating between melancholia and heady optimism, with much in between. His main theme, one we encounter as our lovers begin their forest sojourn, starts with piano-tinkling that immediately invokes Simon and Garfunkel's most celebrated heartbreaker while not at all going there; it yoyos a similar start but never lets the pair say hello to darkness -- even though every major character in this ensemble can call it an old friend.
Instead, a flute -- that most wondrous and fanciful of instruments -- kicks in, lending the film wings. (Stay back, by the way, through the end-credits for a music lesson.)
Jared Gilman's Sam and Kara Hayward's Suzy are perfectly cast, first-time movie actors channeling the playful-but-intense spirit of the film strongly enough. Around them, a slew of A-listers -- Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwarzman -- do the heavy lifting, taking on a miserable lot of quirk-laden characters and enthralling us almost effortlessly. Ever-memorable, they shine through brief, telling scenes, making the unashamedly surreal movie real even as the children swap lightning-flavoured spit.
This might be Wes Anderson's best film since Rushmore, with the possible exception of his stop-motion masterpiece, The Fantastic Mr Fox. The rest may have been more beautiful, more peculiar, more awkward, more hip. Moonrise Kingdom -- a film that truly deserves its magnificent title, by the way -- is much dreamier stuff, a film that makes us long for love and adventure. Far too long have we stood premeditating by the trampoline; now is the time to jump.