Moonrise Kingdom is recognizable as a Wes Anderson film, complete with dry humor, invented works of art, and an eclectic soundtrack. The film offers those pleasures for the casual Anderson fan, but for those willing to look deeper Moonrise Kingdom is a maturation, a transitional film in Anderson's career and an early contender for your year-end Top 10 list. The fictional New England island of New Penzance circa 1965 seems at first a coy conceit, and the tour of the Bishop house that we get in the opening shots recalls our introduction to the ship in The Life Aquatic. But Anderson is after something deep here, and something very human. The narration on the recording of "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" that we hear early in the film speaks of pulling things out and then putting them back together, and Moonrise Kingdom does the same thing in its story of yearning children and inexpressibly sad adults.
Our young and would-be lovers Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) are quickly introduced as Sam slips away from his Khaki Scout troop and foster family while Suzy leaves a note and takes her brother's record player. A flash back to their first meeting finds Suzy costumed as a bird for a performance of Britten's Noye's Fludde, and the way Sam sees Suzy then sets the tone for much of what's to come. The specificity and oddity of the seaside camp that Suzy and Sam make for themselves is very Andersonian, but Hayward and Gilman are unactory and unaffected performers both excellent at capturing their excitement at what they think lies ahead and their unhappiness with what's come before. Anderson (who wrote the script with Roman Coppola) doesn't sexualize the young couple but doesn't ignore sex either, finding a potent metaphor to mark the impending rite of passage. It's with his conception of the adults that Anderson makes his greatest strides. Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) refer to each other as "Counselor" and have let a good portion of their lives slip by while not acknowledging their own unhappiness. When Suzy turns runaway it forces more than one reckoning; Murray's anger at his own failures is expressed in comic rage while McDormand and Heyward have a wonderful, layered scene of women at different moments in their lives talking past each other. Bruce Willis finds a great but quiet passion for life in the role of a police chief who isn't quite as hardened to life's disappointments as he thought, and Edward Norton plays the scoutmaster with a needed lack of irony.
It's the way all of these people get taken apart and put back together again that's Anderson's concern, and Moonrise Kingdom is the first time he has ever really been interested in community as a subject. While I haven't done justice here to just how funny the film is, I left the theater thinking about the ways the characters affected each other and to what degree those ways might be permanent. I'm as excited by Moonrise Kingdom as I am by any film I've seen in some time, for the ways it feels familiar and yet signals something entirely new in its director.