Wes Anderson's name. He is one quirky dude. With movies like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic, he's created a niche for himself in the smart (usually), quirky comedy department. That generally off-the-wall, unique humor can be dividing among viewers so head into 2012's Moonrise Kingdom knowing what you're getting into.
It's 1965 on a small New England island called New Penzance and a major storm is rolling in, and in more ways than one. A Khaki scout camping with his troop, 12-year old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a bit of an odd duck, and now he's up to something. One night, he escapes from the troop at Camp Ivanhoe, forcing Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), to start searching for him. Sam isn't alone though. He's running away with 12-year old Suzy (Kara Hayward), the oldest daughter in a family with three younger brothers and two lawyer parents. The whole island scrambles to find them, but what are the two pre-teens up to, and where do they hope to get?
Watching an Anderson film, you really, really need to know what you're watching. The comedy is so ridiculously underplayed and understated that you've really got to pay attention to every line, every delivery and facial reaction or you're going to miss something. It's quirky humor with style though. Anderson's camera is pretty stationary, rarely moving into the action, shooting the film almost like a stage play, occasionally moving in for a close-up. Setting the story here in 1965 adds to a quirky, retro style from the throwback clothes and cars to the general awesomeness of the 1960s (a documented scientific fact). It's a beautiful movie, full of colors that could make up paintings if need be. Get in rhythm with the style and generally kooky humor early, and things should fall into place for you.
Actors and actresses certainly like working with Anderson as a director because he continues to attract big names to his films. Along with Norton as Scout Master Randy, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, and Harvey Keitel (buried far down in the credits) and Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman round out the cast. There isn't a bad performance in the bunch. Willis especially stands out as Captain Sharp, Penzance's police officer, Schwartzman is a crazy scream as Cousin Ben, an older scout, and McDormand and Murray as Suzy's parents working through some personal things. I won't list all the names, but Scout Master Randy's troop features some solid performances from some young actors while Suzy's brothers also have some funny moments.
The most quirky part of the story is definitely the teenage crush turned love that develops between Sam and Suzy, two pre-teens that find a common bond that brings them together. They're both loners, what most would consider weird to other kids their age (probably because they're wise beyond their ages), and they don't like what their lives are. Solution-oriented? Run away with plenty of supplies...on an island. While the duo is both obsessively quirky and appropriately odd, there's also a real charm to their relationship. Because neither is the accepted 'norm,' they must automatically be vastly different. Their runaway has some really funny moments, some truly odd and even unsettling moments, but it ends up being a good mix. Sam wears a coonskin cap, smokes a pipe, and is quite the Khaki scout in terms of skills. Suzy loves a French record given to her by her godmother, loves fantasy books, and always wears binoculars. How is that not a match made in heaven?
I think Anderson is a talented director who treads that fine line. He's really close to being too quirky, too cute, too disgustingly quirky even. There are times it tries too hard to be different in its humor. To his credit, Anderson seems to know when to tap the brakes as he approaches that fine line. There are moments he seems like he's losing it, but he regains control quickly. I don't mean it as a huge criticism -- he's very talented and a very good director -- but each of his movies have those moments that are just too odd for their own sake.
It's still a funny movie, worthwhile to check out for sure. When it works, it is clicking on all cylinders. Phone calls with a split screen are simple but effective. Norton's Scout Master exploring the camp with all its eccentricities is pretty perfect, as is the surreal scenes when Schwartzman arrives to help Sam and Suzy. Weird? Yes. Enjoyable? Oh, yes, that too.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012): ***/****