With a soundtrack that alternates between Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams, Wes Anderson’s latest film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” is set on an island in Narragansett Bay, off the coast of Rhode Island. The year is 1965, narrator Bob Balaban tells us in an ominous tone, and a huge storm is just days away. Anderson’s telltale wide-angle shots take us into the Bishop house, home to Mr. and Mrs. Bishop, their three little boys and their 12-year-old daughter Suzy. Cutaway to look like a dollhouse, the Bishop home is filled with colorful brick-a-brack and characters wearing clothes a size too small. The parents, played by a grumpy Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, sit in different rooms (symbol alert!) while the kids hunker around a portable record player, listening to a children’s introduction to the orchestra that highlights the different “families“ of instruments.
Whether you think his films are brilliant and evocative or showoffy and essentially pointless, Anderson is certainly an auteur, a personal artist with an individual style that distinguishes all his work. All his signature touches appear in “Moonrise Kingdom”--the static camera, the candy-color palette, the overly sensitive socially inept adolescents, the stilted, unreal dialogue, the meticulously created stage sets, and the gloomy tone punctuated by weird comic touches. All this contributes to the Wes Anderson universe, a place that’s pretty and strange and sad and relentlessly self-absorbed.
The plot of “Moonrise Kingdom” centers on two pre-teens--Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky--who run away together and hide out in the woods. Suzy and Sam met at a holiday pageant that dramatizes Noah’s ark (two by two, get it?) began a correspondence, fell in love, and hatched a plan to escape their circumstances and live together. Suzy is tall and surly and prone to fits of violence as well as vivid green eye shadow. She’s also an avid reader of adventure books, many of which she brings with her in a suitcase, along with the record player she steals from her brother.
Sam, an orphan attending summer camp on the island, is an enthusiastic and skillful Khaki Scout, but also friendless and forlorn. While he’s describing how well he and his new foster family are hitting it off, the foster father is sending a polite letter to the island’s police chief informing him that they don’t want Sam back, if and when he’s found. Sam’s scoutmaster (played very well by Edward Norton) is clueless about the boy’s situation, and while Mr. and Mrs. Bishop aren‘t exactly clueless, they are too absorbed in their own disappointments to do much for Suzy.