With a Wes Anderson film, there's always a sense that something isn't right—that what you're seeing couldn't be real. Like, why does everyone in The Royal Tenenbaums act as if they live in the 1970s? Or why is no one killed in the shootout between the pirates and Team Zissou in The Life Aquatic? Then there are the eccentric characters: the enthusiastic Max Fischer of Rushmore, the delusional Dignan in Bottle Rocket. Through his distinct style—and his meticulous, colorful visual aesthetic—Anderson typifies the words "unconventional" and "idiosyncratic." Still, surreal as his works might be, they couldn't be more real when it comes to reflecting human experience. Infused with hope and humanity, they connect with us and challenge our pessimistic perceptions of life.
Moonrise Kingdom epitomizes this paradox, right from the opening sequence. It begins in a 1960s New England home filled with kitschy colors and decor—a typical Andersonian mis-en-scene. Through symmetrical tracking shots, we watch a family go about their everyday lives as if they were in a dollhouse with us peeking in. A husband and wife, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), sit bored in separate rooms. Elsewhere, their three young boys lie on the floor listening to a record, while their pre-teen sister, Suzy (Kara Hayward), reads a book and later appears peering through a set of binoculars. These offbeat sequences, though out of reach from reality, seem familiar, connected, nostalgic—like we've played these parts before. They also offer insight into the family we're observing—the literal divide between the parents, the album being played, the book being read—as well as the film.
The film continues in the same vein—seemingly in another world while also feeling close to home. The story, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, centers on Suzy and Sam (Jared Gilman). Suzy comes from a seemingly functional family, but she sees through the facade—specifically her mother's secret affair—and, out of resentment, rebels. Sam, an orphan and member of the local Khaki Scouts, is similarly troubled, not because of a dysfunctional family but because he has no family at all. When the two unhappy juveniles' eyes meet backstage at a church production of Noah's Ark, it's love at first sight. They start writing each other letters, and their young love leads them to run away into the woods, where they escape their troubled world to create a new one together—the "Moonrise Kingdom"—all while a local search party hunts them down, and a fierce storm brews overhead.
This plot appears pretty conventional, but through a number of eccentricities—his trademark style—Anderson assures us it's not. In terms of tone and energy, the story settles into a Badlands, Bonnie and Clyde type narrative—minus all the killing and crime, of course—and several strange scenes set it off. From a deadpanned Bob Balaban as the Steve-Zissou-like narrator, to Suzy and Sam dancing in their underwear on the beach, to a ridiculous showdown between Sam and a group of armed Khaki Scouts, these scenes come to the screen with Anderson's quintessential quirk. Set to ironic images against an original score from Alexandre Desplat and hits from Hank Williams, the film has an otherworldliness that makes every Anderson film surreal and strange—as do its unusual characters: