Wes Anderson is the current reigning king of weird childhood moments: alienation, ennui, and balls-to-the-wall eyeliner. Watching Moonrise Kingdom last night reminded me of why Anderson's movies are so lovely.
The story: there is a youthful love affair, an escape from scout camp, a search, a night spent alone, a discovery, an adoption, and a great storm. There are overtones of Vietnam, which aren't inappropriate for a movie set in 1965. There are maps, tiny canoes, a kitten in a basket: the proper accessories for kids on the run. It's not a big movie, but that's just fine: the movie's stars are the kids, and everything is scaled to fit them.
Anderson gets terrific stuff when he directs children. Although his dialogue sometimes feels stilted, most pre-teens are little weirdos, and so giving them weird things to say is totally natural. The roles he gives his child actors are some of the most interesting in the oeuvre, and that's saying a lot for a man who wrote the Tenenbaum family into existence.
However, Anderson's greatest, indisputable gift has always been his knack for look. Each scene is in this movie is so carefully composed and art-directed that it feels like the cover of a children's book come to life. The film stock feels retro and touchable, giving it a warm, accessible quality. And, of course, Anderson's great talent for art direction and set design means that Moonrise Kingdom is instantly recognizable as a Wes Anderson production. Characters wear impeccable knee-socks and raccoon-eye make-up, live in overlarge shabby houses, and run away from home carrying suitcases full of books. Everything in the frame has been considered. While I sometimes miss the looser-feeling energy of Anderson's earlier films, the well-behaved look of his more recent productions are undeniably beautiful.
It's no wonder that Anderson's movies inspire a rabid fan following, often with young women in their late teens and early 20s set. That's a demographic who feel great ambivalence about leaving their own childhoods behind. In Anderson's world, a little bit of female instability often becomes a fascinating personality facet, and Suzy, the rage-prone mini-heroine of Moonrise Kingdom, is no exception. No wonder, then, that fans might be convinced that, if they had a portable record player and an armful full of french pop songs, they would be easier to love. The characters's outfits are easy to replicate, and because so much of Anderson's mood is created through look rather than dialogue, it seems plausible that, given enough Fendi fur and eyeliner, you could transform yourself into Margot Tenenbaum.
Anderson, like graphic novelist Ben Katchor and musician Tom Waits, has a gift for creating worlds filled with the unusual and beautiful. Characters are travelling Bible salesmen, pickle purveyors, top-hatted hustlers with pet doves and knuckle tattoos. They are firmly middle-brow, firmly American, not overinvested in things like "home" or "jobs": the type of characters who think nothing of escorting a woman in a raw-silk dress to a vaudeville revival show one night and hopping on a boxcar the next morning. They have money, but it runs out. They have affectations, like corn-cob pipes and red toques. They often sleep in tents. They are attractive because they do what they want (often suffering in the process: see every Bill Murray character in every Wes Anderson movie), and in the end, most people usually come around.
Despite missteps like The Darjeeling Limited, I always look forward to the next Wes Anderson outing. When he is good—and Moonrise Kingdom is very good—it's possible to lose yourself in his world. I hope I never grow out of that wistful moment at the end of the film when I wish I could visit that world in person.