Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Suzy on the lookout

Going into any Wes Anderson movie you know exactly what to expect… quirky characters with exaggerated mannerisms, a mid-60’s soundtrack, ill fitting period piece clothing, family dysfunction in a surprisingly touching yet sad and ultimately redeemable way, precocious preadolescents who often appear more in control of any given situation than any of the so called adults, and an emotional pay out in the end that appears to come out of nowhere.  Moonrise Kingdom delivers on all fronts… and then some.

Based on the fictional New England island of New Penzance in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two 12 year olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) who fall in love and run away together to live in the woods of New Penzance.  She is on the island summering with her parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand)… two attorneys who don’t seem to have the best relationship, and her three young brothers.  He is a Khaki Scout on the island for summer camp.  After having met the previous year, they spent their time apart writing each other and plotting… plotting to find their own little paradise… away from the family dysfunction… away from being the kid no one likes… together forever with the one who understands you.  Could it be more simple?

Once Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) discovers that Sam is missing and Suzy’s parents have alerted the local police, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), a search party sets out to find our missing lovers.  That is all you really need to know. 

Although every one of Anderson’s film appear convoluted and confusing thanks to the wealth of details that permeate every frame of his films, the stories behind each movie are about as basic as could be.  The entire plot and end game for this film could easily be told in two paragraphs… but he understands that old adage about a picture being worth a thousand words… and a Wes Anderson film is as much about the visuals as it is about what is written on the page.  Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. 

Every scene is full of gorgeous cinematography and visual imagery to the point that your heart could burst from the beauty of each moment.  Another hallmark of Anderson’s visuals are the cut away sets that can be filmed from room to room without having the image halted by an unsightly wall… examples are the ship in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or the underground system of tunnels in Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The lighthouse that Suzy and her family are staying in is the cut away set… and in this house, we see her family, like an ant farm… moving about, doing what it is that each person does… stunning.  Nothing written on a page can prepare you for the images we as the audience are treated to in each of his films… and the Rhode Island locations used in this film are perfect in evoking the sense of being in another time… another era… another place.

For as hard as I’ve tried… I can’t find any fault in a single performance.  The two young leads are simply superb in every way imaginable.  Both with their own particular oddities… Sam is an orphan who enjoys painting landscapes and nudes… Suzy views the world through binoculars and has the mannerisms and a face that alternates between a French New Wave film goddess and a lonely young girl on the verge of adolescence, I expect to see much more of her in the future.  Bruce Willis manages to portray the most earnest and decent non-quirky character ever to populate an Anderson film, while you have in Suzy parents two people who can’t seem to communicate unless they are discussing legal cases… and Laura only sees to talk in either hushed tones or through a megaphone.  Edward Norton is a scout leader… genuine and capable, with a twinge of pathetic.  It was a pleasure seeing so many newcomers to the Anderson clique, as well as the regulars… Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman.  Honorable mention must also go to all the young scouts.  Every performance… perfectly cast, impecibly acted.

At the beginning of the film we are told that in three days time, there will be a storm of epic proportions.  Our characters don’t know this… but we do.  As the story progresses, we know everything will culminate in one way or the other.  There is only one way to know what those events will be… go see Moonrise Kingdom and find out.

The first two words that came to mind after leaving the theater were “cute” and “charming”.  Every moment of this film oozes with a particular love and tenderness that is difficult to put my finger on.  There are a number of transcendent moments that found me simply gazing at the screen with a smile on my face and tears welling in my eyes.  I’ve always believed that every Wes Anderson movie has at least one “Anderson” moment… that line or event that distills everything the film is trying to say into five seconds… and it’s this line that becomes the emotional core of the story.  In The Royal Tenenbaums it is the moment when Chaz says to Royal, “I’ve had a rough year, dad”… in The Life Aquatic it’s when Steve sees the shark and says, “I wonder if it remembers me”.  I’m not sure if Moonrise Kingdom has that one line, or if the entire film is that one line… but towards the end when everything is hitting the fan, a moment appears… and it’s a moment of sheer bliss.

If you have ever enjoyed one of Wes Anderson’s films, you will adore Moonrise Kingdom.  I made a bet with my seven year old (who really didn’t want to go with us to see this), if she didn’t like the movie I would give her $2.  I still have my $2.

I left him a note,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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