Wes Anderson‘s “Moonrise Kingdom” seems like an odd choice to open the 65th Cannes Film Festival, with its deadpan Americanism, retro-set timeline and movie-star cast; at the same time, Anderson is clearly influenced by the New Wave, both cinematically and personally, he’s a distinctive authorial voice as a director (which is the essence of auteur theory) and while his films are defined by near-silent moments of comedy and human frailty, there’s also something mournful and wounded about them. “Moonrise Kingdom,” like all of Anderson’s films, is a very beautiful and funny movie about grief and sorrow, and the never-was 1965 the film takes place in is both a meticulously-crafted triumph of design and decor and an emotionally rich setting, full of objects you could almost reach out and touch, with feelings and yearnings that reach out to you.
On the island of Penzance, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) are 12-year-olds in love, down to the plan to run away together. Suzy, with three little brothers and a distant mom and dad (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), has entirely too much family; Sam, an unpopular Khaki Scout, has too little. Their flight into the wilds of Penzance — 16 miles long, isolated and tiny — churns the whole community into a lather, from Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to Khaki Scoutmaster Edward Norton. If anything defines all of Anderson’s work (and this film is co-written by Anderson and Roman Coppola), it’s that the kids seem awfully grown-up, and the grown-ups seem awfully childish. Sam and Suzy want to be adults, and know they aren’t there yet; the adults around them, in their own unhappy lives, seem to be looking on and saying ‘slow down.’ When Sam makes an excellent point, Captain Sharp sighs. “I can’t argue with you; then again, I don’t have to: You’re 12 years old.”
The film has the loose, playful feel of a light opera — the island’s name is no coincidence — but it’s interesting how the stakes stay high even as the leaping and laughing crank up to full-speed. Hayward and Gilman are both excellent, and their romance is neither saccharine-ly chaste nor a Harmony Korine-style excess of depravity; the one time the two talk most like kids is in their tentative, uneducated and uncertain affections, and even that Eden evaporates, with a flood to follow.
Anderson’s camera movement and set design have, in previous years, been seen as too mannered, too stiff, floating apart from the characters as they’re viewed from one cool remove, as if through a glass plate smeared with whimsy. But there are signs — small ones, and easily missed — that Anderson is not only using his traditional M.O. here but also commenting on it and, perhaps, saying goodbye to it. (Suzy’s glance-to-camera in the final shot — a shot with a completely different grammar and language than the rest of the film — suggests that our characters are headed for a very different world in the months and years to come; it also suggests Anderson might be looking for new worlds to conquer.) All the adults are exemplary — especially Edward Norton’s good-hearted, slightly rushed scouting chief. While Hayward and Gilman play Suzy and Sam as smart and a little weird, they also play them as real-life kids with insecurities, worries and actual feelings. “Moonrise Kingdom” glows, to be sure, but it glows in the darkness, and that gentle soft light, keeping the cold and night of the world at bay, is what makes Wes Anderson’s film so special. [A]