Farce — especially the offbeat Wes Anderson brand — is incredibly hard to do, to hit just the right tone and hang onto it for maximum laughs and maximum bite.
So Anderson has created some kind of miracle in “Moonrise Kingdom,” which had me giggling almost from the opening credits. It's my new favorite Anderson movie. Yes, at least as good as “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
That Anderson manages to entertain us this much while also offering piercing commentary on the society and psychology we live in is some kind of rare genius.
I can't decide what I liked most about “Moonrise Kingdom,” the brilliant ensemble cast, the droll script, or the fact that every character in this tale of love and infidelity, scouting and social services takes himself or herself so over-the-top seriously. Nearly every line is delivered rat-a-tat deadpan.
“Moonrise” is, at least on the surface, the story of two outcast children about 12 years old who fall in love and hatch a plan to run away together in 1965. Narrator Bob Balaban explains to us that a huge storm is headed their way.
Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan, a social outcast in the Khaki Scouts who has not done well in foster homes. He has come to the island where Suzy (Kara Hayward) lives with her parents, and where the Khakis have pitched camp.
Suzy's parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) are upper-crust lawyers, the kind who buy their children records about how a symphony is structured. We meet the family as the record player explains variations on a theme. Think about that one for a minute. Suzy is also a troubled child.
The kids' disappearance triggers Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, hilarious: “I'm a scout master first, math teacher on the side.”) to mobilize the Khakis as a search party. Quickly we get a “Lord of the Flies” vibe. Suzy's parents press Police Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis, an expert at drollery) to search as well.
When Sam's foster parents announce they don't want him back, social services (Tilda Swinton, equally brilliant) springs into action, announcing an orphanage and/or shock therapy in Sam's near future. Capt. Sharp doesn't like this.
Did we mention Capt. Sharp is having an affair with Suzy's mom, and that Suzy knows about it? And that whopper storm keeps closing in.
At every turn the kids outflank the grownups, who are shown to be venal, driven by ego, badly behaved and self-centered.
This director is droll enough to play “Your Cheatin' Heart” in the background during a breakup. In fact, the alternating country tunes and classical music carefully inserted into the story become a character themselves and add to the fun.
This can be cerebral if you want. Or it can just be absurd. However you take it, it's funny adult comedy. Yes, adult. It's rated PG-13, but it's hard to imagine a young teen savvy enough to fully appreciate what's going on here.
In fact, I'm not sure I did. But I sure enjoyed myself.
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