It’s been nearly 15 years since Rushmore, but Wes Anderson hasn’t altered his style one iota. With the sole exception of his marvelous 2009 animated fable Fantastic Mr. Fox, he has clung to his rarefied, Salinger-meets-The Graduate-meets-music-video-meets-postmodern-TV-ads whimsicality as if it were under glass, which in a sense it is. What has changed is Anderson’s place in the culture. At the time of Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), many claimed — with validity — that he was a defining voice of his time, an irony-generation heir to Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. But the awe over Anderson’s work now exists in a kind of auteurist echo chamber.
In his new film, Moonrise Kingdom, Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphaned 12-year-old Khaki Scout in owlish glasses and a merit- badge-laden uniform with a yellow kerchief, goes AWOL from his camp by running off to the meadowed wilds of Penzance Island. The year is 1965, and Sam isn’t alone. He has invited along a very pretty girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward), who wears blue eye shadow and carries a portable 45 record player. She’s running away from home, and the two have concocted a plan to meet up and wander as a kind of romantic great escape. Are they in puppy love? That’s the idea, though in Anderson’s hands, their relationship remains an abstract fantasy of tremulous young romance — which is fine in theory, since that’s sometimes what very young romance is. Yet all these two really have in common is their junior Wes Anderson acerbic innocence. Sam, who says everything with invisible, quizzical quote marks, brings to mind Marten Holden Weiner’s studied oddball performance as Sally Draper’s friend-and-maybe-more on Mad Men, and Suzy, though we keep being told that she’s ”troubled,” seems merely distant and wise beyond her years in a nonchalant way.
The two wander, they dance on the beach to a French-pop yé-yé song, and they’re pursued, with increasing frenzy, by everyone else in the movie. That includes Frances McDormand (at her most shrewish) and Bill Murray (at his most disgruntled) as Suzy’s unhappy parents, Bruce Willis as a benign cop, and Edward Norton as an officious scoutmaster. Anderson hasn’t lost his puckishly charming genius for cinema-as-diorama visuals. Yet a lot happens in this film, and not a lot of it matters. For some viewers, Moonrise Kingdom may be movie heaven, another bric-a-brac-jammed bauble to place alongside The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. Personally, though, I wish that Anderson would come out from under the glass, or at least change what he’s doing under there. B-