While joking around is essential to any comedy, so is a story. And Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom – though laced with lots of humor both dark and light and assorted goofy shades in between – tends to dwarf any narrative more as a brittle backdrop, hanging out on the periphery as nearly an afterthought.
Jared Gilman is Sam in Moonrise Kingdom, a nerdy twelve year old outcast attending Khaki Scout Camp Ivanhoe on the remote island of Summer’s End in 1965. Sam is initially spotted running away from camp, after handing in a resignation he’s left behind, and stealing tackle, an air rifle and the scout canoe.
As the panicked troop leader (Edward Norton) organizes the couldn’t care less scouts into a search party, the circular plot backs up to the previous summer, when an instantaneously infatuated Sam encountered Suzy (Kara Hayward) and won her over as a pen pal way before the texting era. Performing as a raven in a local theater production on the island, but subsequently demoted to a blue jay, Suzy is a likewise tween loner enduring an unhappy family life in a vertically challenged lighthouse. Which is presided over by a wacky dad (Bill Murray) and mother (Frances McDormand) who communicates with her brood of kids through a bullhorn.
Meanwhile, Mom is having a not so secret affair in this tiny community with the incompetent police chief (Bruce Willis in superhero self-parody mode). And a shrewish social worker (Tilda Swinton) is called in on the case after Sam’s folks declare they’re not inviting him back, since he’s an orphan and they’re only foster parents anyway.
Beyond this bare bones lost and found preteen love story, not much happens in between beyond a series of inspired comical moments. And an increasingly tedious, statically crafted story during which an abundance of eccentric details – like runaway Suzy packing rubber bands, binoculars and overdue library books – questionably sub for any dramatically driven plot. Along with a plethora of negative adult role models – hopefully not casting aspersions on co-screenwriter Roman Coppola’s dad Francis Ford. Who cast the then eight year old as young Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, way back when.
Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket) is said to have based Moonrise Kingdom on an unrequited childhood crush. Too bad he didn’t stick to that preteen memory lane scenario, and opted instead for underage, really creepy audience titillation. As his two kid stars get into an inappropriate graphic sexuality that would likely be indictable anywhere offscreen.
Not that Anderson as producer hasn’t pursued this kind of perverse pastime before, as when the kid protagonist in The Squid And The Whale pleasured himself on a shelf of books in the library. Too much information, Wes. And we’re not talking those library books.
1 1/2 stars