Moonrise Kingdom – Movie ReviewJune 12, 2012
For over a decade, with the release of films such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and more recently, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson has established himself as one of the greatest American directors of our time. With his distinct quirkiness, signature directorial style, and utmost ingenuity when it comes to writing a film, he has charmed audiences worldwide and has made quite a name for himself. Although his latest film known as Moonrise Kingdom has failed to gain a truly wide release thus far, it still promised us more quirkiness, hilarity, and a fresh coming-of-age story based in the mid-1960s. Has Wes Anderson delivered on that promise with his latest film?
In 1964, a preteen orphan named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) visited a play in his town situated on the New EnglandislandofNew Penzance. When he sneaks around to visit the girl’s dressing room, he meets a girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), who is similar to him in that both do not have friends and have major emotional issues. Over the next year, the two write to each other conspiring to run away from their shallow lives and live a life together in the wilderness, also falling in love in the process. When the two actually flee in September 1965, the local Khaki Scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton) discovers his appearance, soon informing police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Once the rest of Sam’s Khaki Scout troop, Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and a woman only referred to as Social Services (Tilda Swinton) become notified of the wayward children, they all form a search party while Sam and Suzy escape to a place where they can spend their time in solitude…
It may seem like Moonrise Kingdom has a rather basic premise – it does. But thankfully the story is fresh and complex enough to make us relate with these characters and root for Sam and Suzy in their quest to find a place where they can share their love. Another thing I was grateful for while watching Wes Anderson’s latest film is that the stakes were consistently high, making us wonder if the two would eventually make it to a place where they could be together or if they would be eternally separated by external forces. In some ways, the narrative of Moonrise Kingdom reminded me of Romeo & Juliet in that Sam and Suzy’s escape attempt jeopardized the welfare and relationships among the townsfolk, which also leads into some interesting character developments, emotional plot twists and a foreboding sense of doom throughout. Some of these developments are unrealized and can be confusing (leaving some scenes unnecessary in driving the rest of the story), but even so, Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola managed to present some very likeable characters here. It is my firm belief that any decent story is driven by great characters, and of course this is certainly the case with Moonrise Kingdom. The plot has great pacing along with this, but that’s not the only positive element of the story. As I had said, there is a sense of doom that permeates the entire film, but with that is the genuine quirkiness and lighthearted nature that Wes Anderson films are known for, making Moonrise Kingdom a more cheerful film than it would have been otherwise. In that sense, Moonrise Kingdom is also a very strange yet wholly entertaining movie. My brother and I laughed throughout at this film’s ridiculousness (which if I may add, becomes very over-the-top at points), dry jokes and pure wit, for Moonrise Kingdom follows Wes Anderson’s tradition of making a film with not only a great story, but nonsensical and dry humor. There are so many things that can be said about this film’s story, but let me just say that Wes Anderson has once again proven that he is one of the most talented writers/directors in Hollywood, having crafted a hilarious, emotionally resonant, fresh and well-rounded tale of young love.
Normally I write about the characters in the narrative section of my reviews, but since the acting here is so good, I’ll talk about both the actors and their respective characters here. As you may have guessed, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are both virtually unknown actors, but hopefully this film launches their careers because they are perfect in their roles. I was able to believe that their characters were awkward, disturbed social rejects, and they also have great chemistry on screen. Pretty much every moment involved in the development of their romance is believably-acted, and like the rest of the cast, for the more humorous parts they deliver their lines with a definite seriousness that makes their performances all the more enjoyable and funny. Despite their great work in Moonrise Kingdom, though, they were not my favorite actors out of all the performers in the stellar cast. Bruce Willis plays Captain Sharp in the film, and to be completely honest I think that this it is his best role in a very long time. Normally we associate him with the typical action hero akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Jason Statham, but here he downplays his masculinity and delivers a performance as a dedicated police captain that is both charming and hilarious. After seeing Edward Norton try his hand at acting out a scoutmaster, I think I can watch him in anything, for he is also very hilarious in that role and helps to bring an even greater personality to one of the film’s more dynamic characters. Although their characters are not as fleshed out as I personally would have hoped, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are also quite good, providing for some very strange but undoubtedly funny moments. Let’s just say that the cast of Moonrise Kingdom is fantastic and do well to bring dimension to their great characters; after all, could you expect less from a Wes Anderson film?
Moonrise Kingdom is one great looking film. I do agree with what my brother said (an even bigger Wes Anderson fan than myself) concerning the fact that some shots of this film are sloppily composed (some are simple to the point that they could have been filmed with a consumer camcorder), but even so the art direction and production design of Moonrise Kingdom are bright and colorful as I had expected (the film in itself appropriately looks like a color photograph taken in the 60s). The bright and quirky aesthetics associated with Anderson’s films are present in this film as well, and I was also well pleased with how well Wes Anderson was able to weave his strange imagination into every part of the film since I loved what had been done with his previous film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Rest assured Wes Anderson’s direction is once again outstanding, providing for a film that has some crazy camera work, bright colors and distinctive production design. Oscar-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat (for both Fantastic Mr. Fox and The King’s Speech) also returns to collaborate with Wes Anderson, and his musical score is certainly a great one at that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Desplat receives an Oscar nomination for his work (although I doubt that he will due to the fact that this is indeed an independent film) in this one, for the pieces he composed do well to compliment the mood of each scene, also managing to make Moonrise Kingdom even funnier than it already is to a surprising degree.
Moonrise Kingdom is certainly not as perfect as I had hoped it would be, for it does get a little bit too ridiculous in some cases (such as one part in which a character is struck by lightning and then gets back up just fine literally seconds later) and there were missed opportunities in trying to develop the characters better. Even so, Wes Anderson managed to maintain his reputation as one of the most talented filmmakers of our generation. Sporting a believable and charming story of defiance and love, a superb cast, a suitably quirky and hilarious screenplay, along with the visual aesthetics that Wes Anderson is known for, Moonrise Kingdom is a welcome addition toAnderson’s ever more impressive filmography. Whether or not Wes Anderson’s latest film is currently playing in a city near you, at one point you should still check out this movie when you have the chance. After all, I can guarantee that even the most cynical of audiences will be charmed by this witty tale of romance in an age of societal change and youthful defiance.