Wes Anderson has a good problem, like having too many houses, running out of space at your dinner party or being mistaken for George Clooney.
He has created a fully realized world unto himself, but his world is so complete that it's impenetrable. The viewer is outside, looking through the window of the dollhouse. You can't beat the way it's put together, but you're also not allowed to take anything away.
The action in Anderson's seventh movie includes a Boy Scouts-like group of kids that the director (reflecting his visually rewarding obsession with clothes) has named the Khaki Scouts, who hold summer camp on a New England island. One of the scouts (Sam, played by Jared Gilman) runs away from camp to be with Suzy (Kara Hayward), who has fled her home on the other side of the island.
Sam's an orphan disliked by his peers, while Suzy is a "very troubled child"—according to a pamphlet she found in her house and a funny montage of her transgressions. Still, it's impossible for anyone to seem too wayward in Anderson territory: It's all so friendly. For viewers, it's fun to participate in this well-composed representation of melancholy without actually experiencing it. The familiar look of Anderson's movies, the way all the characters seem to use the same tailor or the way the covers of books look, is comforting, like seeing the Windsor font in Woody Allen's opening credits or hearing "Gimme Shelter" in a Martin Scorsese movie.
It's so comfortable, in fact, that the Moonrise Kingdom audience does more than relate to the conflicts of the characters—it craves them. The world of Sam, Suzy and the adults chasing them up and down the island is so safe that their problems seem like good ones. When Suzy's dad (Bill Murray)—bottle of red in one hand, axe in the other—tells his three adorable sons, who are having a record-listening party on the floor, that he's going outside to find a tree to chop down, you wish for the gut pouring over his madras pants, his weary resignation and maybe even the crumbling marriage that's driving him to do wacky stuff like chop down trees for no reason.
Anderson makes us long to be in the shoes of these characters, who get bullied by their peers and whose children go missing. Aside from employing a gee-whiz cast in which no actor is too famous for a mere walk-on role (you will recognize almost every adult face), Anderson accomplishes it by sealing his universe into a well-haberdashed container of nostalgia and pronounced detail in which a crisis does not give us anxiety about the outcome, but just represents the idea of crisis.
But that's Anderson's game, and he's entitled to it. By featuring an on-camera narrator (Bob Balaban), Anderson gives his movie a plain self-awareness that he's been edging toward since Rushmore. Similar to the way Moonrise has a play about a flood within a movie which contains a flood, or the way Suzy arranges her kitten's cans of food as if they're on display at a supermarket, representation is the point. That Anderson is better at the casual representation of the melancholic mood he's figured out than he is at working through the serious crises of his characters is problematic, but no one is better at what he does than him. And if your biggest shortcoming is that you can only do one thing better than anybody else, that's an enviable conundrum.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Sunshine and kittens."