By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Writer-director Wes Anderson is an acknowledged artist but an acquired taste.
His quaint and quirky comedies (perhaps we should call them “quamedies”) include The Royal Tenembaums, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. They’re set in an insular world, a miniature universe of his own making, with an emphasis on visual design and tone over story and character, an approach that can create a cult following, but that also can and does annoy detractors even as they admire a film’s look.
His latest, Moonrise Kingdom, is arch and wry and deadpan — in other words, positively Andersonian — and will have the same effect on viewers, pleasing his ardent admirers while drawing accusations from others of lavishing more attention on the props than on the characters.
Moonrise Kingdom is set on the fictional, sparsely populated Penzance Island, off the coast of Maine, in the late summer of 1965.
A 12-year-old boy (Jared Gilman), an orphaned Khaki scout with impressive camping skills, and an unhappy-at-home 12-year-old girl (Kara Hayward), a fantasy-novel enthusiast with three younger brothers, fall in puppy love, make a pact, and take off together into the wilderness, creating a commotion in the local community that parallels the violent storm brewing off shore.
So their loved ones, acquaintances, and other adult members of the island form a search party.
Edward Norton plays an earnest scoutmaster, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand the girl’s parents, Bruce Willis the island’s sole policeman (and by the way, don’t the latter two seem particularly… ahem, friendly?), and Bob Balaban the on-screen narrator.
And Tilda Swinton as a Social Services administrator, and Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman as scout leaders, also stop by in the late going in brief cameos.
Bathing luxuriously in its eccentricity, the whimsical film is anything but predictable in its developments, non-formulaic in the extreme, even if occasionally exasperating in its stubborn autobiographical focus and disregard for generic expectations.
Ultimately, it’s like a Rube Goldberg contraption — like the demonstrated scouts’ latrine system — with puckish humor that is, if not exactly funny, at least smileworthy.
The screenplay, which Anderson co-wrote with Roman Coppola (son of Francis), is about kids acting like adults and adults acting like kids — welcome once again to Andersonville — as a small community finds itself while looking for two of its young members.
But it’s the studied artificiality of absolutely everything — the island, the characters, the historical realities of the actual 1965, the springboard for the plot, the dialogue, the outcome — that will either win you over or send you packing.
We’ll admit to a little of both feelings and search for 2½ stars out of 4 for Wes Anderson’s melancholy fable about preteen yearnings and the storm that is adolescence, Moonrise Kingdom.
East is east and Wes is Wes, and maybe this time the twain shall meet. Or maybe not.