***1/2 (out of four)
A great rainy day movie, “Moonrise Kingdom”—Wes Anderson’s silly, winning take on young adult literature—sees childhood as a storm to weather and adulthood as a confused search for a dwindling spark. The result: Anderson’s most delightfully bittersweet live-action movie since “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
Days before a big storm in 1965 New England, Suzy (Kara Hayward) runs off with 12-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphan whose foster parents tell the officer (Bruce Willis) on the case that they don’t want Sam back. Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) and Sam’s former scoutmaster (Edward Norton) follow in much hotter pursuit, scouring the coast for kids who have turned a pen pal relationship into a chance to escape families unequipped to deal with pre-teen woes.
We can no longer call Anderson’s movies offbeat because the director (who wrote “Kingdom” with “The Darjeeling Limited” co-writer Roman Coppola) has such an identifiable rhythm. In that sense, the very funny “Moonrise Kingdom” feels very much on beat for Anderson. Yet the style that tilted toward forced preciousness in “The Life Aquatic” and fully got there in “Darjeeling” returns to a world in which the quirk becomes not a gimmick but a playful, intelligent point of view. These kids’ unusual struggles—for example, Sam once started a fire while sleepwalking—have pushed them farther from the support system they need, while Ward (Norton) struggles to control his scouts because, really, they’re curious children still learning the ropes.
Like the stop-motion “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Kingdom” likely will improve with each viewing as its mannerisms focus into superb characters. Even after seeing it once, it’s easy to appreciate the film’s ability to capture the creativity and intense feelings of children—a formula for either disaster or something special. As adults try to get a handle on the youngsters and their own spiraling lives, Sam and Suzy try to grow up, through pipes and French kisses and mom’s perfume. The pair already embraces that grown-up feeling, fleeting or not, of two hearts saying it’s us against the world.
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