After Darjeeling Limited, I decided that was it, I would never again see a Wes Anderson film. His determination to keep making the exact same film over and over again--which can also be seen as an inability to make any other film--finally just wore on me, leaving me feeling duped and angry, and I vowed not to be fooled again. I successfully avoided seeing the Fox one (it's the same movie--but stop-motion animated!), and successfully avoided this one for a while, until the dearth of anything else to see and steady praise for this movie made me relent. Plus there's what my friend at work said about it: "Yes, it's the exact same movie, but it's just a really excellent version of it." Okay, that I can understand.
So there's this little charming imaginary New England island, New Penzance, where we are introduced to the same old Wes Anderson precocious kids who grow up surrounded by books and vinyl records and telescopes. It is 1965, so we can have charming 60s style and avoid modern story-killers like cell phones and GPS. There is the same old Wes Anderson family, with Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as lawyer parents to 10-year-old girl Suzy, and a bunch of young boys. Suzy sees that her mother is having an affair with Bruce Willis as the island's cop. There are numerous extremely formal, centered shots, as per usual, numerous 360 pans, and many characters staring directly into the camera.
At this point I wrote in my notes: "What if Wes Anderson and Miranda July got married?"
Also on the island is the local chapter of the Khaki Scouts, led by Ed Norton as the scout leader. They wake to find one of their troop has escaped. This is Sam, who is always picked on by the other boys. We flash back to see that a year prior, Sam met Suzy dressed as a bird for the church play, introducing himself by asking "What kind of a bird are you?" They maintained a written correspondence, and planned to run away together. They meet in a field, and the rest of the film is them hanging out together, trying to avoid capture, and the other parties on the island trying to find them.
Thing is, it's all super charming. Maybe because it is centered on an adolescent romance a lot of the overly-precious elements go down more smoothly, so it's cute and not nauseating when Suzy runs away with only books, a kitten, and a record player, and Sam uses his scouting skills to prepare adequate camps and protect her. The centerpiece of the film is at the camp they make in a beautiful inlet, where Suzy gets her ears pierced with fish hooks and they engage in a mock marriage ceremony. This is intercut with the adults trying to find them, and what happens when they finally do.
Again, the fact that it's kids we're talking about provides a more explicable context for the typical Anderson cutesiness and preciousness. Since its all in the service of an optimistic romance, we can wistfully get behind it, and the old familiar family dysfunction and quirky devotion to ritual fits more organically into the story. And since the last half is about people acting generously on behalf of others, showing courage and devotion for the cause of love, and coming to appreciate the good in each other, it's something it is easy to get behind, surrender to and enjoy.
Also, even though I fault Anderson for making the same movie over and over, I have to admit that it's a pretty good movie. This one, perhaps again because it's about kids, has little intriguing touches that they all do, little character tics and interactions that one loses sight of in the other films because they're all so pointed at what a very, very clever little man this Wes Anderson is. Suzy wears blue eye shadow. The mother, played with her perfect pitch of haughty nervousness by Frances McDormand, shares cigarettes with Willis when she meets him. Ed Norton (nice to see him again) is touchingly devoted to scouting, and one feels defensive of him when his scouting is called into question. Bruce Willis brings his particular strain of melancholy.
Anyway, it's an extremely sweet movie and a good date movie, and though it'll hold up on video, there is that special manner of being caught up in a film that can only happen in a theater. Let it also be said that the music is enchanting and wonderful. The final shot explains which place in the film was the Moonrise Kingdom, and by that time you'll look back on it as an enchanted little spot. You should see this movie.
Yes, it's good, damn him.