Before we are even five minutes into Moonrise Kingdom we have already seen most of the unmistakable trademarks of director Wes Anderson‘s style. There is a virtuoso long take that establishes the house where the Bishop family lives by means of a dolly shot taking us through the different rooms that have been art-directed to 1965 perfection. A piece of music seems to guide the scene (in this case: Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra). There are some whip pans, a snap zoom and an actress looks straight into the camera. You could attribute most of this to Anderson’s love of cinematic showmanship, except for that girl looking at us. Because Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) does it again right near the end of the film. It is an intriguing detail that seems to invite us into (and later bid us farewell from) her pop-up adventure book. And although some of the events of her story are actually quite tragic, this is “a film that does not seem able to face the cruelty of the world unless by reducing it to a scale model” (Jacques Mandelbaum, Le Monde).
Anderson tells the story (which he co-wrote with Roman Coppola) of Suzy and Sam (Jared Gilman), two 12-year-old kids who fall in love and run away together. Their sweet courtship is summarized in a montage of the letters they exchange, which forms one of the highlights of the film. The two young actors playing the pair fit right in with the ensemble that includes heavyweights such as Bill Murray and Bruce Willis. Their lack of acting experience dissolves in the staccato and deadpan way in which dialogue is delivered in a Wes Anderson movie.
With ingredients such as the authorities in pursuit of the kids (in the form of a troop of boy scouts led by Scout Master Edward Norton), Social Services (Tilda Swinton) trying to put the boy into an orphanage and a deadly storm brewing, this could easily have become a dramatic tale of star-crossed young love. But although there are fires and floods, and lightning strikes more than once, emotionally speaking there is not much more than a ripple. And therein lies my problem with the film.
In his sixth feature (not counting the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox), one begins to wonder about Mr. Anderson’s project. He is without a doubt “an amazing talent” (Jacques Mandelbaum, Le Monde), with a distinct and influential style. But where is he taking his gift? He does not seem willing to make the compromises necessary to work inside the studio system and tell the grander stories, as did other auteurs such as David Fincher and the Coen Brothers. Nor do his visuals evoke the emotions and opinions that do those of Terrence Malick. His movies are obsessively realized storybooks revealing “a constantly renewed struggle to both order and ward off the instability of a world where adults and children confuse their roles” (Jacques Mandelbaum, Le Monde). Anderson has certainly further perfected his style in Moonrise Kingdom, but without a compelling story or idea “his satirical and hallucinating tone is of an alarming dullness” (Carlos Boyero, El País). I wondered what he is trying to leave us with, other than an appreciation of his cinematic flair.