Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban
How long is Moonrise Kingdom? 94 minutes.
What is Moonrise Kingdom rated? PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.
Wes Anderson Goes Back To the 1960s, Maintains His Excellence
I understand that Wes Anderson is a divisive director. However, I am a huge fan of his, and The Royal Tenenbaums ranks among my favorite movies. While some might argue that Moonrise Kingdom is more of the same from him, this isn’t a bad thing because his “same” is still a unique, fun, “feel good” experience.
Set in the mid-1960s, Moonrise Kingdom takes place on a New England island where despised orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) runs away from his Khaki Scout campsite to rendezvous with Suzy (Kara Hayward), a troubled girl with anger problems. These social outcasts are friendless, misunderstood loners who obsess over wilderness activities and pre-young adult fantasy novels. Their relationship is the soul of the film, and it’s what makes Moonrise Kingdom a success. Their chemistry allows it to become something more than a commonplace story about first love, but one about a first companion. The first kiss is incidental to finding someone who finally “gets you.” It’s an aspect of love that is rarely present in adult films about the subject, let alone coming-of-age ones, and the two first time-actors easily sell how important and integral they are to one another.
However, their escape, which had been in the planning stages for a year, rouses the attention of the Khaki Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), the island’s Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), an overly bureaucratic Social Services representative (Tilda Swinton as “Social Services”), and Suzy’s parents Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Along with the rest of the Khaki Scout Troop 55, they set about the forest to find the two runaways. The Khaki Scouts are classic Wes Anderson. These Boy Scouts operate with military-like intensity and timing — whether it’s Troop 55 on the island or the kids training on the mainland base ruled over by Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel). Sam manages his way through the wilderness like an expert tracker and the various collections of troops come across as armies; these aren’t kids playing soldiers, these are kid-soldiers. Moreover, the film respects its jailbreak/behind enemy lines lineage, and it creatively applies a lot of the characters and moments you’d expect to see in those types of films.
Despite having a very impressive adult cast including Anderson vets Jason Schwartzman, and Murray and Anderson newcomers Willis, Norton, McDormand, and Swinton, Moonrise Kingdom is all about the kids. The film never forgets that it exists because of the romance/love/companionship of Sam and Suzy. As other Khaki Scouts join in on the adventure, Sam and Suzy retain primary importance. Despite having a number of funny and dramatic scenes for their own, the grown-ups primarily serve to support the kids, and not in the typical bad guy, ally, or doofus roles. They have their own issues and depths, but it’s always Sam and Suzy’s story. It’s them against the world, as microcosmic as it may be.
Yet as ludicrous as individual elements may sound from the outside, the movie never feels anything but legitimate. Anderson creates a universe where things are simultaneously utterly ridiculous and deathly serious. Adopting this sort of “super reality” is what makes Anderson such a remarkable filmmaker, and forming the movie’s world around the main characters’ perspectives turns the emotions of these outsiders into something truly genuine.
These off-realities of Wes Anderson’s movies also enable him to create gorgeous works, and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. Filmed in glorious Technicolor, Moonrise Kingdom mimics the look of the 1960s with strong solid colors and an excellent collection of props and wardrobe. The film is populated with original artwork, memorable outfits, and cleverly designed sets that make the movie worth seeing on a big screen. It’s a shame that Anderson’s films have never been nominated for Oscars for their costuming or set design, and Moonrise Kingdom should be honored in both categories considering its originality and attention to detail.
Only playing in limited release, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the year’s best films. As with Anderson’s previous work The Fantastic Mr. Fox as well as other recent “child-centric” movies Hugo and Where the Wild Things Are, it is a film for all ages, and one that promotes hands-on invention and independence. Anderson has again made a film that is wonderful to look at, funny, full of good performances, and sweet. More importantly, there is an honesty behind Moonrise Kingdom‘s emotions that is lacking in most other movies, and it shows that there is not an inherent problem in happy endings as long as they feel earned. After all, it’s the characters, sad and isolated as they might be, who deserve to feel good when the credits roll, not the audience.