Working from an original script co-authored with Roman Coppola, the acclaimed indie filmmaker (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr Fox) tells a tender tale of two precocious 12-year- olds. Having met and fallen in love a year ago, the would-be Romeo and Juliet now decide to run off together. He is a bespectacled orphan (Gilman) who absconds from his summer scout camp; she a restless rebel (Hayward) who flees from her family home on the isolated island where the narrative unfolds, circa 1965.
Their idyllic getaway lasts for a few blissful days before they are caught and separated. The multiple search parties include the lad’s chain-smoking scout leader (Edward Norton, hilariously deadpan), his paramour’s parents (Frances McDormand-Bill Murray, fiercely funny) and the sole member of the local police force (Bruce Willis, brilliantly cast against type). A sleight of script ensures that the lovebirds are soon reunited. As the end of their Edenic childhood looms, it’s evident they will have to struggle with the inevitable transition into adulthood. While Anderson’s trademark blend of clever comedy and edgy melancholy is on abundant display, the carefully composed frames highlight his attention to detail. There’s a suitcase full of children’s adventure fiction with specially commissioned cover illustrations, a battery-powered portable record player which plugs into the 1960s vibe, plus a pair of earrings fashioned out of bugs and fishhooks.
The costumes and production design are a marvel. The soundtrack weaves snatches of compositions by Benjamin Britten alongside country and western songs by Hank Williams. As the on-the-lam adolescents, newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are astonishing. Rounding off a delightful supporting cast are Harvey Keitel as the scout commander and Tilda Swinton as a sinister social services officer. Moonrise Kingdom is the most rewarding American film released here so far this year. Don’t miss it.