The most impressive thing about Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom—and by that I mean the element that left the strongest impression on me—is Kara Hayward. She’s used as a premenstrual still life, with makeup flaring on her cheeks like war paint: an ache of sexual potential energy that, in this sterile context, has no chance of being released. Her angst is blacked out like the redacted lines of a confidential document, and it’s the one gut-stopping totem of the ’60s qua ’60s in the entire film: the shadow of a formless rebellion from which anarchy might slither and pulse. Though the movie fits the summer like a fashionable pair of shades, it presses against melancholy in its self-awareness that Anderson can’t or won’t fully acknowledge—though the most dextrous of his mouthpieces sometimes do. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play the inexplicably old parents of Hayward’s teenage Suzy. One night, split brilliantly between two beds in a manner that denotes broad parody and denies the existence of intercourse (Suzy is their eldest), they ruminate on whether their love for their daughter is enough. For what? Or to prevent what? The snark melts off their psychiatric-cliché dialogue like gristle into the flames of a grill.
I could tap out all the usual points about this filmmaker, and aver, in all sincerity, that Moonrise Kingdom is like Badlands mashed up for Nickelodeon; but harping on what is so polarizingly his weakness and strength quickly turns rote. Anderson’s work tends not to blunt or injure or stoke emotion, but delegitimize it, which is of great comfort to viewers who are weary or sensitive or disposed to pop downers or all three; and it’s easy to extract a sense of serenity from this particular film, because, at its best, it’s authentic to what in childhood passes for objectivity. It points to the deadness of hipster culture only in that one needs be hip to nothing to grock it. On one level, this director can’t make a movie about two peripubescents, passionately in love, who are outcasts from society—because there’s a uniformity of affect in Andersonland that cuts through age and gender and class lines and converts maturity and well-adjustedness into mere cosmetic properties. The heroes here are on that ledge where innocent behavior begins to teeter into the realm of insanity; but Anderson keeps his footing by at once implying and withholding the end of innocence. The characters don’t really grow up. The calendar doesn’t flip from 1965 to 1966 to 1968. It’s a phoney-baloney sort of ideal world that saves itself by accepting its limits; and once I knew it knew that, I could enjoy it passively, because this K-hole wasn’t instigated by a pretentious A-hole.
Some specifics: It was less mind-blowing than it could’ve been to behold Bruce Willis sharing a universe with Bill Murray. The former may have fared better had he retained his droll reactivity rather than nipping at the deadpan of the latter. Edward Norton is sweet enough to make me think that Smoochy shouldn’t have died. The pastoral chorale and the confidence of Benjamin Britten complemented the atmosphere immensely, framing childhood in the same way the artificial sets in Night of the Hunter did, and were a surprising, welcome break from the period-specific nuggets I expected the director to pull from his vaunted vinyl collection—though using Hank Williams as the lonely sheriff’s recurring theme was a lame joke. And the contrast between Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore and Jared Gilman here isn’t necessarily to the detriment of the younger actor, but does point to either an intensity that the young Schwartzman naturally, intuitively had or a facet of Anderson’s talent that has since been lost.