Over the Moon

4 minute read

Wes Anderson Builds dollhouses, life-size ones, for the characters in his movies. The home in The Royal Tenenbaums is as meticulously eccentric as the family that occupies it. The subterranean abode of the feral dandy in Anderson’s stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox would merit a spread in a vulpine Better Homes and Gardens. The director’s camera style is every bit as regimented. Shots travel across a flat plane or forward; reaction shots are calibrated at a 90- or 180-degree angle to the preceding shot. The pictures could have been taken by a robo–security apparatus designed by a geometry genius.

Anderson’s dollhouse movies raise a question: Does anybody live inside? Sometimes, you bet. In his breakout comedy, Rushmore, a willful life force burns in 15-year-old prep-school misfit Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). And dapper Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney, applies his wiles with a crafty charisma. But the pleasure in watching an Anderson film is often rarefied, like that of examining the innards of a Joseph Cornell box. The questing brothers in The Darjeeling Limited and the oceanographer (Bill Murray) in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou seem like stiff puppets confined by his visual strategies. Their dollhouse is a jailhouse, the camera their stern sentry.

Part of the considerable appeal of Moonrise Kingdom, which the director wrote with Roman Coppola and which opened the Cannes Film Festival, is its notion that at least two of Anderson’s dolls want to bust out of his prismatic prison. The first scene is a tracking shot of rooms on the upper floor of the Bishop family house on the New England island of New Penzance in 1965: in one room is Mother (Frances McDormand); in another, Father (Bill Murray); in a third, their three young sons. Cut to the front of the house, where 12-year-old Suzy (Kara Hayward) peers through binoculars into the fateful future, to which she hopes to escape.

Suzy has a secret assignation with the orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). They’re kind of soul mates–brain mates, really, for both kids are as bright and restless as Max Fischer and the prodigy Tenenbaum children. Suzy devours fiction for advanced readers and listens to Franoise Hardy records. Sam, a member of the local Khaki Scout troop, is an expert woodsman. Most important, they feel the kinship of the imprisoned.

Suzy and Sam know what they’re running from but not to. New Penzance is, after all, an island; their escape is largely a metaphorical statement. But being alone together has an innocent thrill. The two also realize that their shared isolation demands an emotional payoff. Precocious intellectually but not sexually, the young lovers must improvise at eroticism. Suzy tells Sam how to French-kiss–she probably read about it somewhere.

This part of Moonrise Kingdom (the name they give the secret cove where they plan to hide) is a film noir love story daubed in the sunny tones of late summer on Narragansett Bay. Gilman and Hayward, both new to the screen, must feel their way to acting just as Sam and Suzy grope toward love; the two performers are as naive and winning as the characters are solemn, willful and 12.

The movie also has adults: Murray and McDormand, Edward Norton as Sam’s Scout instructor, Bruce Willis as the local sheriff who’s sympathetic to Sam’s plight, and Tilda Swinton as Social Services (that’s her name), determined to put the boy in juvenile detention. No more mature than their charges, the grownups are incidental both to the turbulence of love on the cusp of adolescence and to the movie’s mood of serious whimsy.

So, cheers for a director who has infused his technical mastery with wayward, radiant life. In the Anderson toy store, the dolls are dancing.


More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com