Wes Anderson’s "Moonrise Kingdom," which opened the 65th Cannes fest Wednesday, is not really a film aimed toward the generation whose story it’s trying to tell. It is more for those who have passed the tender age of 12 and now have a longing to revisit the purity of it all, the "firstness" of it all, before the truth of what life really is ruined everything.
If you’re not inclined to dwell in that realm of arrested development, you might find your feet twitching a little bit to break free from that world you left behind so long ago. Then again, perhaps it is our nature to always want to look back and romanticize who we were then. It is certainly the inclination of many storytellers now. Once you wade through the bounce-house of box office champs and the Muppet movies and the Pixar movies, you wonder where all the stories about adults have gone.
"Moonrise Kingdom" is about a 12-year-old boy, Sam (Jared Gilman, below), who strikes up a correspondence with an odd girl, Suzy (Kara Hayward, left). They eventually plan to meet and run away together. It goes remarkably well, because Sam is an expert Khaki Scout (which is to say, Boy Scout).
The inclusion of a kitten that Suzy brings along is somewhat distracting, and reminds me that no woman who has ever cared for animals and children would have ever written a kitten into the story like that. It is far too troublesome to imagine where the kitten will go to the bathroom, what it will eat, how long it's going to meow, whether the rain is getting it wet, and so on. But Suzy isn’t concerned — and neither is the kitten, as it’s just another quirky prop brought along to make her the coolest girl in the world.
While the adults — mired in the misery that comes with, gasp, old age — chase around after the two lovebirds, we watch Suzy and Sam find that special place where they can just be together. Any risk is romanticized away. (Had they been left to their own devices in the real world, Suzy is pregnant within the year and then watch how fast things get real.)
"Moonrise Kingdom" is charming, occasionally moving, sometimes disturbing but always engaging, as "a Wes Anderson film” is wont to be. The director has gone to great lengths to let us know that this is his movie. While it eventually settles into a comfortable groove, at first it feels too showy and obvious, more style than substance. But there is no mistaking this trip down memory lane as a nostalgic valentine to the days before cell phones and video games.
What did kids do back then? Well, they messed around outside. They don’t do that so much anymore. There isn’t the same amount of freedom to explore not just their surroundings but each other. This is the why and how of many a hipster who carries around a portable typewriter as he bicycles to the organic coffee shop, unshaven and free of modern conventions.
The film is not, however, a place to find anything more meaningful than the kind of limited depth such gauzy nostalgia affords us. We long for simpler times, even if deep down we know those times were anything but simple. Most of us were terrified of the opposite sex at 12, not so willing to jump into the deep end. What does resonate is the power of the moment, which is what Anderson seems to have captured so beautifully here — what it was like to feel another tongue in your mouth for the very first time, that squirmy warmth an immediate education in how we merge, how we desire, how we love.
The power of that memory lingers for most of us a whole lifetime. For Suzy and Sam they can’t rush to discover love fast enough. This isn’t a cautionary tale, mind you; the movie is in full support of these two misfits in love, and it wants you to be too.
"Moonrise Kingdom" is about, more than anything else, the peculiarities, quirks and fetishes of its writer/director Wes Anderson, and co-writer Roman Coppola. There is no breaking out of that mode of whimsy. It’s a David Lynch dreamscape without the disruption of Dennis Hopper and the grotesque. You either go with it or you don’t. I found the modest story much better than the over-saturated style adorning it. It made me wish to see the same story directed by someone who doesn’t yet have a defined style that he or she must adhere to, but can feel free to find the bare truth.
As they do for Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, big stars show up for Anderson in smallish, thankless parts, like Ed Norton as the Scout leader or Tilda Swinton as the social worker. Bill Murray isn’t given enough to do, nor is Frances McDormand. The kids are the standouts here, and the adults are background noise.
(Photo of Murray and Anderson at Cannes by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images.)
But in the end, it’s hard to hate "Moonrise Kingdom." Even though parts are too self-conscious, too drenched in sun-kissed nostalgia, too irritatingly quirky, it works ultimately because Gilman and Hayward are so good. Somehow, these two pierced the surface of the Wes Anderson oeuvre and found the core of truth. And that is a story worth telling, no matter how old the characters are, and no matter how young.
Sasha Stone will be filing regular reviews and reports from Cannes for TheWrap. Her full coverage can be found at AwardsDaily.com.