Wes Anderson’s 1996 debut film, offbeat crime comedy Bottle Rocket, thoroughly charmed me, and his second, the even more idiosyncratic Rushmore, won me over completely.
More recently, though, I’ve been blowing hot and cold over his work, finding The Darjeeling Limited overly precious and his animated Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr Fox smug and self-indulgent.
But his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, is a delight. At once self-conscious and innocent, it’s stuffed full of the quirky details and gags that are Anderson’s trademarks, but also possesses an emotional undertow that will tug at those viewers in tune with its singular sensibility.
Set in the summer of 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, the fictional New Penzance, it’s a story of young love whose protagonists are two lonely, smart, misunderstood 12-year-old children. Sam (Jared Gilman) is the least popular member of a Scout troop camping on the island; and Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the troubled daughter of unhappily married lawyers Mr and Mrs Bishop (Anderson regular Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
When the pair run away together, taking with them such vital supplies as tent, stove, air rifle and paint box (him), and cat, library books, record player and Françoise Hardy records (her), the whole island is turned upside down in the hunt to retrieve them.
With a powerful storm gathering offshore, the adults involved in the search, including scoutmaster Edward Norton and local police chief Bruce Willis, are a downright dysfunctional bunch, as is typical with Anderson. But as storm and people converge, most of those on screen gain our sympathy.
Anderson films all this in a hyper-stylised, deliberately artificial manner. Yet far from being distancing, the technique actually draws the viewer into the movie’s world.
As the camera glides across the carefully composed, exquisitely colour-coordinated frame, there’s a sense that everything on screen isn’t just artfully chosen, but cherished too, just like the objects the children take with them during their flight. The use of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and his children’s opera Noye’s Fludde is another indication of the film’s investment in the children’s emotional lives.
The youngsters may be oddballs, Sam with his Davy Crockett hat and corncob pipe, and Suzy with her knee socks and Sunday school shoes, but Anderson’s handling of their pre-pubescent love has real heart.
On general release from Friday 25th May.
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.