Wednesday, June 6, 2012

'Moonrise Kingdom' makes happy campers of starcrossed lovers

Posted By on Wed, Jun 6, 2012 at 11:00 AM

TIL SCHOOL DO US PART: Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman
The coming-of-age comedy Moonrise Kingdom avoids identifying the exact location of New Penzance Island, but the quaint community with its lighthouse, summer camp and Native American trails probably lies in New England. New Penzance unmistakably belongs within the borders of WesAndersonLand, that cinematic territory of bittersweet whimsy where kids have more wisdom than adults and history seems to have stopped in the 1970s.

As a filmmaker, Anderson restricts himself to a narrow visual and emotional palette, perpetually exploring themes of neglectful parental figures in scenes so meticulously designed, they resemble museum displays more than human habitations. In Moonrise Kingdom, like his breakthrough film Rushmore, the twee style dovetails with the point of view and self-perception of Anderson's star-crossed young protagonists, so the layers of nostalgia don't muffle the film's heartbeat.

In 1965, just three days before the arrival of a major storm, New Penzance gets thrown into a tizzy when two 12 year-olds run off together. Both sought escape from stultifying environments. Suzy (Kara Hayward) constantly looks through binoculars as if desperate to find an alternative to her self-absorbed parents (Billy Murray and Frances McDormand). Orphaned Sam (Jared Gilman) stole away from Camp Ivanhoe, a boys' retreat run by an ineffectual scoutmaster (Edward Norton). On the trail of the runaways are the island's police officer (Bruce Willis) and Sam's fellow Khaki Scouts, an amusingly interchangeable mob with names like Izod, Redford and Lazy Eye.

Thanks to Sam's excellent survival skills, the two camp under trees and by seasides, where they read, cook, swim in their underwear and skittishly explore first and second base. Both sport Anderson-worthy affectations, like Sam's corncob pipe and Suzy's fantasy novels and turquoise mascara. (It's easy to imagine Suzy as a symbol of sexual precocity in a 1960s French film.) But they play off each other like actual young people, prone to grandiose ideas yet with little experience of real romance or each other. Anderson may have cast Hayward and Gilman for their low-key, naturalistic acting, which floats like a bubble of realism amid Moonrise Kingdom's deadpan sight gags and carefully arranged compositions.

Anderson offers a soft portrayal of both kids' challenging personalities. Two amusing montages reveal Sam as a rebellious outsider at an orphanage filled with interchangeable bullies, while Suzy lashes out at her teaches and family. A film that mirrored the grown-ups' point of view would probably find them both abrasive and difficult, but Anderson instead wants to honor their short-lived fantasy of love and liberation.

Moonrise Kingdom features droll subplots about the adults that feel more pro forma, and devotes a surprising amount of time to the music of Benjamin Britten, as if Anderson wants to add operatic emotions to his usual obsessions. Moonrise Kingdom fosters enough attachment to Suzy, Sam and the hapless adults that the audience has stake in their outcomes. Filled with Anderson's trademark comedic melancholy, Moonrise Kingdom evokes the kind of first love that feels like part of an endless summer, while disappearing all too quickly.

Moonrise Kingdom. 4 stars. Directed by Wes Anderson. Stars Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman. Rated PG-13. Opens Fri., June 8. At area theaters.

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