The movies of director Wes Anderson are an acquired taste. The dry humor, quirky rhythms and oddball characters of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and his handful of other films haven’t exactly attracted feeding frenzies down at the local multiplex.
But many fans find Anderson’s films refreshing alternatives to the typical paint-by-numbers, populist pablum of the mainstream box office, and they turn out to savor his nonconformist gems when and where they can find them.
Anderson’s latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” is currently in what Hollywood calls “wide release,” meaning that it’s playing across the country after a more modest, “narrow” opening in a smaller number of selected cities. That means more people can find it more easily — and that the movie studio believes more people will see it given the opportunity.
And see it you should. It is, indeed, a midsummer gem.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is the story of two misfit 12-year-olds, Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), who both live on an island off the coast of New England. Sam and Suzy meet in the summer of 1965, fall in love and conspire to run away. But they won’t get very far. It’s a small island.
Sam goes AWOL from his scout troop, slicing a hole in his tent to rendezvous with Suzy, who brings along her little brother’s battery-operated record player, her cat and a suitcase filled with her favorite girl-fantasy books. They meet in a meadow. Sam shows Suzy their route on his map, offers her some beef jerky, and off they go.
Young love is in the air — but so is a nasty hurricane. Can Suzy’s drifted-apart parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton), and the local police chief (Bruce Willis) find the runaways before the storm hits?
It’s funny, touching, sweet and drenched in ’60s nostalgia, but reverberating with distant, haunting echoes of adolescent longing for practically anyone who grew up anytime, anyplace, anywhere. The whole cast is superb, with Murray, McDormand, Willis and Norton all hitting perfectly coordinated notes of delightfully offbeat, off-centered harmony for their characters and their subplots, a tangled, interconnected mess of grown-up hang-ups.
Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Tilda Swinton also make appearances, rounding out the colorful supporting players.
The story unfolds, in carefully calculated increments of chaos and calm, to an eclectic hipster soundtrack of high-lonesome Hank Williams honky-tonk, grand philharmonic classical and even an irresistible dollop of obscure French pop, a song to which Sam and Suzy dance in their underwear on the beach of the secluded inlet that eventually gets rechristened to give the movie its enchanted title.
Like other Anderson films, “Moonrise Kingdom” probably won’t rival the explosive megabucks exploits of Batman, Spider-man and other superheroes of contemporary ticket totals. But for viewers who want to escape to place where a special, much more subtle kind of movie magic gently unfolds, it’s like an exhilarating dip in a secret summer cove of cinematic cool.