A pair of 12-year-olds shimmied in their knickers to the ba-dum-dum of a plastic mobile record player nested in the sand. Pale and gritty like a vintage photograph, the scene flickered before me like a tribute to the ’60s — all peace, love and horn-rimmed glasses.
It seemed familiar — but why? Were the wardrobe’s retro silhouettes stretched over the mannequins of a nearby Urban Outfitters? Did Instagram send the film through the “Earlybird” filter like an indie car wash? Was I just watching too much “Mad Men”? (Probably, no, yes).
“It’s a Wes Anderson thing,” replied my neighbor, her words muffled by a fistful of popcorn and the sudden hush of the audience as the stars of “Moonrise Kingdom” shuffled closer in the sand for a smooch. Yes, that Wes Anderson thing. How could I forget?
There’s a thrill in discovering new talent — nudging an artist from iTunes to make room for the precious new addition (it’s a boy!); adding a fan page to Facebook so that the world can ooh-and-ahh at your broadened horizons. Yet there’s an irrefutable joy in rediscovery, like unburying a childhood toy from the depths of the closet, an artifact of the once loved.
As a long-time fan of the “The Royal Tenenbaums” director, I’d smudge my eyeliner à la Gwyneth Paltrow’s Margot Tenenbaum and meet the characters’ stares with my own, smitten with Anderson’s world of quiet nostalgia, deadpan gazes and dry humor.
Sinking through my theater seat and into Anderson’s palm with every minute of “Moonrise Kingdom,” I melted with Suzy and Sam (newcomers Kara Hayward Jared Gilman) as the sun cooked over their shoreline tent. My admiration for the director had resurfaced, materializing like an uprooted treasure for Suzy and Sam to fish from the sea.
But Anderson’s wistful appeal is due to more than my personal history, snuggling the director like a forsaken Malibu Ken doll; there’s a greater nostalgia, a wry and humble ode to the past. Anderson is the Peter Pan to his audience’s Lost Boys, leading us through hours of Neverland-ish ambiance. His films flirt with a delicate cynicism, yet each scene retains its warmth like an LP’s moans, unproven but sworn to existence by past generations.
Each frame — Margot and Richie Tenenbaum sharing a cigarette on the roof; Bill Murray scrambling in his pajamas; a raven-costumed Kara Hayward mystifying a Camp Ivanhoe fugitive — is given its own moment, indulging itself in the characters’ simultaneous fragility and severity, and lingers as if waiting for the audience to grasp an unuttered joke. The director dilutes his pictures as if in homage to retro cinematography, sweeping the viewer into a different era with the eagerness of a child flipping through a grandparent’s photo album.
But his dedication to the past surpasses vintage themes in setting and wardrobe. Anderson’s fascination with the heightened emotions of childhood bleeds into every detail, like a toddler scribbling past a paper’s lines and onto the walls, the carpet and his own pudgy fingers.
Drawing on more than the shallow recreation of a decade, Anderson channels the inner workings of the young and immature mind, presenting each story through a twist of wise children and wide-eyed adults. He exposes the glories and the tantrums of pubescence, exhibiting the refusal of change and age in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and the explosive imagination of “Moonrise Kingdom.”
As if parading through their own Neverland, the characters are frozen in a state of man-child. The Tenenbaums’ same ensembles stretch into adulthood, Margot bound in her fur coat and Richie strapped into a terry cloth headband from his days as a child tennis champion. The click-click-click of typewriters is still heard in a house in which nothing changes (not a book nor a frame out of place) despite the film’s then-modern setting. Royal Tenenbaum’s epitaph is inscribed with the date of “2001.”
Like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Anderson’s latest “Moonrise Kingdom” entangles the roles and expectations of the child-adult dynamic, presenting Suzy and Sam with the solemnity of a veteran couple, yet the spirit of invincibility likened to storybook characters. Chased by a steadfast troupe of boy scouts slinging arrows like the Lost Boys, escaped to the island of New Penzance and unofficially married at the age of 12, these kids have done more with their baby teeth intact than most preteens embarking on homecoming dances and midnight curfews.
Anderson presents the past as more than glamor or innocence; it’s something that clings to us throughout adulthood. He insists that one may never outgrow the monsters — or the skeletons — in his closet, never rid his clothes of the last speck of pixie dust … but maybe that’s not so bad.