1. Wes Anderson is considered by many to be a cold, dispassionate filmmaker more interested in creating miniature worlds to run around and play in than creating well-rounded, relatable human beings to inhabit them. You constantly hear the word "dollhouse" referenced when people discuss Anderson, a twee boy constructing elaborate, ornate dioramas alone in the backyard while the other boys are wrestling and punching each other nearby. But this characterization of Anderson both captures and misses something pivotal to what makes Anderson's movies work when they work and not work when they don't: This is a man who is deeply connected with being a boy. This has always been the spiritual link between Anderson's work and that of, say, Dave Eggers. The real, breathing, bloody, ugly world is full of peril and things that bite. The only safe place is childhood, where there is protection, where the bad things are mysterious and unknowable and confusing rather than depressingly real and complicated and painful and adult in an immediate, inescapable way.
2. Sometimes this can be a bit exhausting—Where the Wild Things Are is a terrific film, but I suspect Maurice Sendak secretly wanted to throw Eggers's novelization across the room; along those lines, at his worst and most self-indulgently "whimsical," you sometimes want to strangle Anderson with his scarf. But when done right, when channeled in the right direction, they can bring you back to the world of youth in a way few others can. Moonrise Kingdom has all the usual Anderson gimmicks (though these days, people prefer to minimize a personal style by calling it a "gimmick"), but it is deeply felt, extremely good-hearted, and, when you least expect it, quite moving.
3. The story revolves around two star-crossed preteens who keep trying to overcome all the damaged adults in their lives (and a particularly scary storm) to be together. He's a skilled orphan Khaki Scout who escapes summer camp to find her, and she's a tortured, troubled oldest child who is prone to sporadic acts of intense violence and who runs away from her sad, beleaguered parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) to be with him. That's all to say, this is a love story, and it's a bit of a surprise that Anderson has never just done a simple love story before. It fits him perfectly. Sure, the boy (played to perfection by newcomer Jared Gilman) has all the Anderson sensitive-boy traits, and he looks like a Williamsburg denizen-to-be, for certain. But the movie is terrific at dramatizing the paralyzing, all-encompassing nature of first love, particularly for two damaged kids who can't believe they've finally found someone who understands them. Anderson's work, at its best, is a plaintive pining for ungraspable perfection, and that is pretty much exactly what first love is. Their story never feels forced or constrained the way some characters do in Anderson's films. He lets them breathe and figure all this out on their own, and, somehow, they do. A scene in which, finally alone, they pretend to have some idea of what they're supposed to be doing with their bodies may very well be the best thing Anderson's ever done.
4. Capturing these kids sort of shakes the ya-yas out of Anderson a little bit, lets the people in his story unshackle themselves from the stifling (yet consistently gorgeous) Anderson decor, and it spreads to the adults in the story. There might be one or two too many characters to go around—I'd have probably dropped Harvey Keitel's troop leader and Tilda Swinton's Social Services (her real name)—but everybody gets a chance to shine here. The one thing all the adults have in common is that they are all sad. Murray and McDormand are falling apart and baffled by what to do with their children; Edward Norton's troop leader feels helpless and fears he's incompetent; Bruce Willis's town sheriff is almost overpoweringly lonely. (A scene in which he makes dinner for the boy, alone in a depressing trailer of a home, is unexpectedly devastating.) Anderson consistently contrasts the rambunctiousness and the idealism of the kids with the tired, pallid, defeated faces of the adults ... and how those adults keep looking to the kids for help, rather than vice versa. It is a symbol of Anderson's inherent optimism that they all seem to find it.
5. This all culminates in a wild storm that brings all our characters together and even hits some of them with lightning. The final sequence is all of Anderson's indulgences multiplied—it's sort of the closest Anderson will ever get to a disaster movie superclimax—but he never loses his grip on the tiller and he never lets the story stray too far from its center: those two lovebirds, and the effect their swoony love has on everybody else. The movie is full of Anderson's tricks and eccentricities, and expecting him to get away from those is like asking him to start speaking Esperanto. This is just how he makes movies, and if you don't like it, you're probably always going to be on the outside looking in. But if you can get past that, and let the movie wash over you, you'll find Moonrise Kingdom giddy, relentlessly entertaining, and, yeah, even a little wistful. Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson's dollhouse as a home for wayward boys. Turns out, it's a safe place for adults to hide as well.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.