The setting of Wes Anderson's seventh full-length feature, Moonrise Kingdom, couldn't be more crucial. The film takes place on the fictitious New England island of New Penzance in the 1960's. This is a place and time tucked away from harsh realities that understands them only vaguely. The two pubescent children at the center of the story, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), have problems with fitting in and acting out, but the closest anyone gets to putting a label on it is "troubled" (as seen on a book Suzy confiscates from her parents, Coping with the Very Troubled Child). That only scratches the surface of the alienation that comes from his being orphaned and the rage that provokes her to set things on fire and injure people.
No one really has the tools to understand these complicated creatures, except for them. The movie is filled with specificity and nuance, but there's something so universal in their clicking, two part at last in place. Suzy and Sam find each other, and then in the first of several poignant revelations, we discover that it took a full year after their initial meeting and pen-pal-level correspondence to reunite. They waited for each other and escaped their respective prisons (her family, his scout troop). It's not like they had anything better to do, being around 12, but still, it's beautiful.
The naivete of the day that frames their relationship is brutal. Her mom, played amazingly as always by Frances McDormand, communicates with her somber pragmatist husband (Bill Murray) and children through a bullhorn; his foster parents abandon him by letter and then a social worker played by Tilda Swinton suggests he receive electroshock therapy to straighten him out. There's a general sense of unpleasantness otherwise. Both Sam and Suzy are social misfits. ("You shouldn't be friends with him," warns a fellow member of Sam's Khaki Scouts of North America troop. "Why not?" asks Suzy. "Because he's crazy," is the answer.) The only relationship model she has is that of her parents, which is disconnected and fractured by infidelity. He is an orphan with no family to call his own. And so they make things up as the go along, forging their own gooey middle in a hard shell that knows no better than they do.
They run away together. He takes care of her by applying his scout's knowledge by setting up camp and telling her to suck on rocks to quench thirst. She reads aloud a series of pitch-perfect juvenile fiction that never existed but could have (The Girl from Jupiter, The Francine Odysseys, The Disappearance of the 6th Grade) and dances to Françoise Hardy's "Le Temps de l'Amour."They talk about French kissing and then they attempt it awkwardly. "You can touch my chest. I, uh, I think they're gonna grow more," she tells him. "It's possible I may wet the bed by the way. Later, I mean," he reveals to her at another point.
What Anderson and his fellow screenwriter Roman Coppola have created doesn't just glorify innocence and tweeness, it presents these sensibilities as the solution to the shittiness of the world. They are the ideals, the real ins to enjoying life. Sam and Suzy idle away the hours, looking at deer, loving the world in an amber-hued utopia. You can roll your eyes and critique Wes Anderson for being so fucking Wes Anderson here, but only the hardest of hearts won't find something to admire in this depiction and its execution. Gilman is great, his stillness making the quirks he emits that much more disarming, but Hayward is the real epiphany. She gives a perfect performance, never looking comfortable and frequently twisting her face into an awkward smirk. (Also, she resembles Lana del Rey. If you're the type to be infuriated by preciousness, this will drive you only crazier.)
Anderson has long splattered darkness on his otherwise pastel canvasses, poking holes of pathos in his polite films of gentle wit with things like imminent divorce, severed brake lines and a suicide attempt. It's a sometimes-jarring tendency that feels like an apology for being so light, like he's strategically placing anchors that keep the whimsical world of Wes Anderson from floating. In Moonrise Kingdom, the opposite is true – they only strengthen the value of the idyllic relationship we're following.
And nothing tears it apart, not even an imminent tropical storm that causes our heroes to dangle from a lighthouse alongside a fantastic, subdued Bruce Willis (who plays a cop), at the film's climax. It's a plot turn reminiscent of some live-action matinee Disney flick that could have been released around the time this movie is set. The end result is happy, of course. Preserving innocence is this film's primary task and it is so good at it.