Last weekend Moonrise Kingdom finally arrived at a theater near me, and after reading review after review of praise from a great variety of sources I was looking forward to finally seeing it. While I’m not 100% in love with Wes Anderson‘s trademark style, I do enjoy the very distinctive look and feel of his past films. He has a knack for witty dialogue and wonderfully deadpan characters, and his directorial style is a very engaging mic of subtlety and hyperbolic dramatization. All big words aside though, my point is that Anderson has a way of taking very odd characters in very odd situations and making them feel very real. In Moonrise Kingdom‘s case, I feel like Anderson has found one of the more perfect mediums for his idiosyncratic style since his mainstream debut, Rushmore.
The plot of Moonrise Kingdom centers around two socially rejected youths who run away together into the woods surrounding their small island town off the coast of New England. The focus of the film is evenly divided between the two protagonists, Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) and the adults searching for them. For the latter category, Anderson has assembled a wonderful cast of supporting characters including Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, Bill Murray as Walter Bishop (no, not the brilliant scientist from Fringe) Bruce Willis as Police Captain Sharp, Frances McDormand as Laura Bishop and many more. While the story is somewhat predictable during the first half of the movie it speeds up a great deal in the last forty minutes or so.
Being a Wes Anderson movie though, it isn’t the plot that drives Moonrise Kingdom. That role is filled by the development of both the central and peripheral characters, and it is here that the film really shines. Each character feels very unique in their own way, and it I felt like as a result I was more invested in them than I would’ve been with the sort of stock characters we see too often nowadays. Murray and McDormand are snappy as ever as the emotionally detached parents of Suzy, both displaying a sort of disconnect with each other and their children which makes complete sense for Suzy to rebel against. While Willis is no stranger to law enforcement roles, his character doesn’t feel the least bit typecast. His name may be Captain Sharp, but the town’s only police officer is a bit on the dull side but he more than makes up for his lack of intelligence with his kind but lonely heart. I particularly enjoyed Norton’s Scout Master Ward, who could’ve been portrayed as a bossy drill sergeant wannabe but instead he ends up being one of the most sympathetic characters in the movie. Ward’s naive tenderness feels like the perfect embodiment of the film’s small town setting, and it’s always great to see Norton explore his wide acting range.
Even with all of the film’s strong supporting performances though it is the scenes featuring the two star-crossed adolescent lovers which truly sets the movie apart from other of Anderson’s movies. Between the straightforward dialogue, the shared social outcast and the strength of their will to escape their troubles, Sam and Suzy feel like the most organic picture of young love Hollywood has put out in a very long time. While Suzy is engaging in her own sense, for me it was Sam’s character who really hit home. Most other filmmakers would’ve likely taken the short, bespectacled social reject and made him a quiet, awkward character, but Sam is anything but that. With the air of someone wise beyond their years, Sam exudes a straightforward, self aware sort of confidence which is only strengthened in Suzy’s company. As the two are pursued by both the adults of the town and Sam’s fellow khaki scouts, you can’t help but root for the two of them in their attempts to escape the coldness and alienation of their previous lives.
The movie is shot in typical Andersonia fashion, and for the most part the old-style camera filter and brisk cinematography feel very appropriate for the 1960s setting. One big thing which I really enjoyed was the soundtrack, which is composed of a wonderfully over the top mix of hard hitting classical symphonies and percussive marching-type music. The soundtrack provides a great frame for many of the best scenes in the movie, adding continuing sense of quirkiness and dramatization to even the most basic travel sequences.
I could go on and on about the intricacies of this movie, but instead I’ll leave that for the comments section. Bottom line I really enjoyed this movie, and even if you aren’t the hugest fan of movies like The Darjeeling Limited or the Royal Tenenbaums I would highly recommend that you try to catch this movie now that it’s received a nationwide release. While there are a fair share of awkward scenes involving the more uncomfortable aspects of the amorous adolescents’ relationship, those scenes are few and far between and are nowhere near the level of awkwardness of other recent films (Quick note, never watch Shame with family members. Just don’t). By all means, go out and see this movie and prepare to have your heartstrings plucked.