Hank’s Recommendations 10/16/12

MOONRISE KINGDOM — Following BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, Wes Anderson’s live action films—LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU and DARJEELING LIMITED—seemed to me an attempt to replace what was totally original and winningly eccentric into with a “Wes Anderson” formula that was simply precious and coy.

Moonrise Kingdom, his latest, however, is a brilliant return to form.

Taking place on a New England island in 1965, the film opens with a stately albeit whimsical introduction to an oddball family and their home called Summer’s End. The parents, the Bishops, are two lawyers who are most compatible when citing law cases to each other. He (Bill Murray) is otherwise distracted while she (Frances McDormand) runs their rambunctious household with the help of a bullhorn while carrying on a clandestine flirtation with the island’s lonely self-effacing sheriff (Bruce Willis). Suzy, their twelve-year-old daughter, jaundiced about her family, including a trio of much younger male siblings, loses herself in fantasy novels she steals from the library and wishes she was an orphan. But she is part of a clandestine plot of her own.

For on the other side of the island is a Boy Scout camp strictly but lovingly run by Ed Norton, who finds not one of his uniformed charges up to standard—except for Sam who does everything Scout-wise right but is alienated from the rest of the troop. He actually is an orphan who loses himself in landscape painting and whose off-island foster family doesn’t really want him anymore.

A year ago the two momentarily, and wordlessly, met at a school pageant. A subsequent correspondence of letters espoused their mutual devotion and sealed their pact to escape the adult world together. And sure enough they do, galvanizing the entire island adult world—parents, scout leaders (along with their troops), neighbors, social services (Tilda Swinton) and the island’s sheriff—to rise to the madcap search and rescue. Of course these adults, so rooted in their ways, don’t realize they will be totally outpaced by Sam’s mastery of survival techniques and skills. All this just as an offshore storm approaches.

So much of the filmmaking, in its framing and with its judicious use of split-screen, slow motion, flashback asides, is witty; the art direction and cinematography scrumptuously eye-catching. The dialogue, with not a wasted word, is a touch surreal, yet realistic enough to evoke sympathy and even suspense.

When Bruce Willis’ sheriff acknowledges that twelve year old Sam is smarter than himself, he adds: “But even smart kids stick their finger in the electrical socket sometimes…It’s been proven by history, all mankind makes mistakes. It’s our job to try to protect you from making the dangerous ones if we can. [Handing him a beer] Want a slug.”

The Bishops lying in bed with the rain falling:

“I’m sorry Walt.”

“It’s not your fault. [Beat] Which injuries are you apologizing for, specifically?”

“Specifically? Whichever ones still hurt.”

“Half of these were self-inflicted.”

The dialogue of the two young escapees—neither coy nor precious nor littered with faux-kids-speak—are credibly appropriate to their ages yet somehow uttered with a wisdom beyond their years, its palimpsest of innocence leavened with the foreknowledge that innocence won’t be likely to survive childhood. About a deceased pet:

“Was he a good dog?”

“Who’s to say. But he didn’t deserve to die.”

In this wonderful eye-catching, ear pleasing film that is a fable, a satire, a parody of adult speech and manners, of escape films, war films, westerns, therapy dramas, pageants and religious miracle plays, not to mention HIGH SIERRA and KEY LARGO, there are plenty of surprises, which I could never spoil even if I wanted to. True art is original, and never duplicable.

Oh yes, and Harvey Keitel is in it.