It isn't really a snobbish statement when you say films by Wes Anderson are an acquired taste. Either you get it or you don't. It's not a holier than thou sentiment, nor is it a threshold for intellectual superiority. It's only a compliment to the filmmaker who has managed to ooze out a starkly original voice in the wake of an era where cinema seems to be an art form exhausted of its novelty and innovation. It's fair to say his films aren't watched the way we are accustomed to approach cinema. That being said, his new film happens to be one of his most accessible works.
Moonrise Kingdom is about Sam and Suzy, two lovers on the lam who would do anything to be together. This may have given the impression of a textbook romance. While this film should be one, it isn't close to one. These social outcasts aren't Bonnie and Clyde but two 12-year olds. I won't be surprised if the film develops a cult following like Harold and Maude (1971). You fumble just a little and the film goes crashing into a secret lair inhabited by a creep.
Midway through the film and its dazzling playfulness, I was reminded of two films - Pierrot Le Fou (1965) and Small Change (1976). Wes Anderson to me is the abandoned love child of Hal Ashby and Francois Truffaut. Jean Luc-Godard and Martin Scorsese being his foster parents. Despite strong stylistic and thematic influences, Anderson starts creating his own world just by developing a certain look. There is an invisible (or maybe it is visible) layer on his films; a sheen of artifice that laminates his frames. This becomes a gateway for believers and an exit for the skeptics. The droll and dry humor and the under-stated drama are one of the few tools that help him carve out jewels one after the other. His use of color makes me salivate (Yellow, for now. Oh my god, that yellow!). This is one of those cases when all these elements and idiosyncrasies combine so beautifully to concoct a cinematic treasure.
Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton - the newcomers, rub shoulders with the staples - Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. But the actors who run away with the best performances are the two kids - Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.
The film is set in 1960s New England, on the island of New Penzance. Bob Balaban, plays the narrator (my favorite character), who guides us and in one scene intervenes to help out the characters as well. Soon I realized this was indeed a fictional town. Who am I kidding? I didn't realize it till the time I walked out. In between I said (with sheer fascination) "Where on earth is this place and what is that map?!" Now I know what place it was. It is somewhere in Wes Anderson's head and we were just given an opportunity to visit his chocolate factory.
Wes Anderson is one of those few filmmakers with great taste in music. He knows how to take existing music and mesh it with his whimsical storytelling. This time he decorates it with Hank Williams songs. He is in good company with other musically gifted filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, P.T. Anderson and Cameron Crowe. Alexandre Desplat's music fits perfectly in Wes' world. They choose to call the main theme - The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the World (Parts 1-7). This ingeniously mirrors the school stage production of the Noah's Ark fable in the film and the flood myth laden third act of the film.
I can imagine why most viewers are calling it Wes Anderson's best since Rushmore (1998). It feels most similar to Rushmore than any other film in his oeuvre. Personally, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic (2004) were every bit as good as Rushmore, so was Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). For me, it's his best since his last film. Either way, Moonrise Kingdom does indeed rank amongst the filmmaker's best works and is one of this year's best films.
Side-note: There are hilarious references to The Godfather (1972), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Titanic (1997), and little treats in the end credits. Look out for them.