On New Penzance, an island off the coast of New England, a couple of children fall in love in early September of 1965. They naturally make a pact to run away together which they then proceed to do. Upon learning of this, their respective guardians are thrown into a tailspin. These adults organize a search party to apprehend the pair of headstrong lovers and put a stop to their illicit love.
I’ve never experienced the 60s, lived in New England, wanted to run away from home or been in the scouts. Yet Wes Anderson makes me feel nostalgia for all of these things. Ok that last part actually isn’t true, I was a Boy Scout, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Here he fashions a story that represents a bygone era that I longed to be a part of. He combines elements that recall the illustrations of Norman Rockwell and the musings of raconteur Jean Shepherd. Of course Anderson brings a slightly skewed bent that is wholly his own. Wes Anderson is an admittedly acquired taste. Not everyone seems to cozy up to the auteur’s whimsical conception of life. I on the other hand am an avowed disciple of his worldview. Apparently I’m not alone as this broke box office records for highest earnings per theater in its limited release. Ok, it’s a qualified achievement, but I’ll still acknowledge it.
Wes Anderson’s films are an exquisitely studied affair. The position an object or person holds within the frame is never up to chance. Every picture is a perfectly arranged tableau. Gaze upon the spectacle when our young hero unzips his tent after he is discovered to be with his sweetheart. The carefully placed assemblage of characters standing there is like a painting of Rockwellian precision. There’s humor in that, but there’s also a level of care that’s admirable as well. It imbues every scene with a joy rarely seen in the movies of today. At times it can verge on precious fussiness. But more often than not, it’s a beautiful display of cinematic purity.
Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s greatest work since Rushmore. Forget The Royal Tenenbaums (which is a great film and his biggest hit). This is a return to that live action high point. The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou were decent but where those focused on an adult disaffection with life, Moonrise Kingdom wisely celebrates what it means to be a child again. There’s an exciting mix of unabashed nostalgia, but without any hint of mawkishness. He strikes a precise balance that both romanticizes the impetuousness of youth, but with some delightfully caustic bite thrown in. Anderson’s films aren’t for everyone, but for those that truly dig his sensibilities it’s a rewarding journey into his fanciful version childhood.