Moonrise Kingdom Movie Review

[Moonrise Kingdom
Written & Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, and Bruce Willis
MPAA: PG-13 – For Sexual Content and Smoking]

I never really understood the hate for Wes Anderson’s films. Yes, I get how a lot of viewers seem to hate an overuse of “quirk”. I also get how Anderson’s sort of style can seem artificial and insubstantial to certain viewers. But at the same time, I never really found any of his films insubstantial. There’s a reason why many wannabe indie filmmakers have imitated Anderson’s strange sensibility time and time again: He uses those quirks to show a certain truth about human behavior, and uses idiosyncrasies to show us feelings that the human heart doesn’t normally let out but still lurks inside of all of us. In lesser, imitating, artificial films I can see that quirk being a problem, but I never really found that problem in Wes Anderson specifically. Also, if your sole reason for disliking his films is because his style is “indie” and you associate everything that is “indie” with hipsters, then I’d like you to shut the fuck up and re-evaluate your definitions of those words.

Sorry, I lost track. So Moonrise Kingdom is the latest Wes Anderson effort, and in typical Anderson fashion, the plot is simple to digest. Out in the fictional island of New Penzance off the coast of New England, two young love birds named Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) run away from their homes in order to have a week together after being pen-pals for too long. In response, the parents of Suzy (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and Sam’s boy scout team (Led by Edward Norton as their scout leader) go on a huge search across the whole island to search for them. It’s a simple story, sure, but with all that being said, it’s also one of the best and most enjoyable movies of 2012 so far.

Now, I’ve enjoyed all of Anderson’s work, even his lesser stuff like Life Aquatic. However, while I’ve always found his films enjoyable, this was the first time I truly felt an emotional connection to the material. You can argue on it being there for Rushmore and The Royal Tenanbaums (And while Life Aquatic is my least favorite, I found the final act of the film to be surprisingly emotional if a little inconsistent), but Moonrise Kingdom was the first time I felt like it all came together on a thematic level and an emotional level. Because of this, I’d even argue that this is Wes Anderson’s best work since Rushmore and my new favorite among his films so far.

Before I get into that emotional center though, I should begin this review by talking about how enjoyable the movie is as a whole though. As is usual for Anderson, he gives the film a life of its own. The island of New Penzance its own rules and logic, almost as if it were a fantasy world. While you can definitely attribute this to Anderson’s usual little stylistic quirks, another factor that weighs heavily is the fantastic cast. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, dear god if there were any more amazing actors together in one film it would be almost overwhelming. They all clearly have a lot of fun stepping into Anderson’s world for the first time (Except for Bill Murray, who’s collaborated with Anderson four times before), but they also play everything excellently deadpan and straight. There’s never any winking at the camera, and it becomes all the funnier because of it. Since everyone isn’t playing the material for laughs, not only is it funnier for it, there’s a richness to Anderson’s small world that would make Prometheus and The Hunger Games jealous.

And all those names I mentioned above were all just the supporting characters. In addition, we get a terrific cast of child actors that, like the adults, play through the film in a hilariously deadpan style. This is a godsend, because the usual problem with child actors is that they always tend to over-emphasize their lines and are way too obvious about how much “acting” is going on, if you see what I mean. The kids here, however, are charming not because they’re trying to be charming like an annoying Disney Channel actor.

Rather, they’re charming because they feel naturalistic and, most importantly, awkward. It’s hard for awkwardness to be portrayed in a coming-of-age story without losing its authenticity, but Anderson knows exactly what he’s doing. The relationship between Sam and Suzy is handled so well because there are elements of awkwardness that accompany the charm. This is especially due to the two leads, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, having delightful chemistry even among that thin layer of awkwardness. The fact that they can do that is kind of mind-boggling considering how most movies about “first loves” tend to feel fake. Here it feels both charming and genuine, which is a hard combination to pull off.

Anderson’s style isn’t lost, of course. As is expected of his work, everything is beautifully framed and gorgeously colorful without being garish. The details he puts into his environments have as much character as the inhabitants of the island. Plus, there are a few instances where Anderson’s love of stop-motion animation is used in a few subtle ways. The set-design is able to have a magic, fantastical quality to it while still being grounded in reality. It feels like magical realism, like a children’s fable seen through more adult eyes.

However, what made the movie work for me more than Anderson’s previous work is that the themes feel so much more defined this time around. While this is definitely a story about first-love on a surface level, it reveals itself later as a coming-of-age story about people trying to hold on to what little youth they have left on a deeper level.

When Sam and Suzy escape from their homes, they’re not only trying to rekindle their relationship, they’re also trying to stave off maturity for one simple week, even if they’re aware that it could be their last week. You also have the khaki scouts, led by Edward Norton’s scout-master character. Each of these scouts are literally youth militarized. It’s almost as if their own youthfulness has already been stolen from the adults. Soon, though, when all the adults of the island start searching for Sam and Suzy, we realize that they too are missing something. When they search out for Sam and Suzy, they are also searching for their own remaining youthfulness, and when they eventually find what they’ve been looking for, they see to their sad realization that it can never be attained again.

They’re trying to capture and adulterate that youth, much like how the parents confine Suzy in the individualized compartments of their house (Not dissimilar to the Tenanbaum house) and like how the scout-master militarizes the khaki scouts. But this type of theme is personified when Tilda Swinton’s character shows up, who plays a Social Services employee searching for Sam (who is an orphan) in order to place him in a specialized orphanage that looks more like an internment camp.

This material isn’t new, but it’s presented in such a beautiful and poignant way that it’s easy to give yourself over to the movie and be swept up by it. I hate to oversell it, because it is mostly just a movie that you enjoy because it is a pleasant, charming experience, but it’s elevated by that subtle sense of longing and sadness that is flowing like an undercurrent throughout the film. There really isn’t much else I can add to the film (hence why this review is shorter than my usual length), so all I can really say now is that this movie is likely to expand into more and more theaters in the future and you should give the movie a chance when it reaches your city.

Final Verdict: Moonrise Kingdom won’t convert Wes Anderson skeptics. But they should still give this film a chance since it’s easily Anderson’s warmest movie in a long time. It’s a gorgeous, poignant coming of age story filled with genuine heart to match Anderson’s funny idiosyncrasies. A joyful experience that leaves a surprising emotional impact.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by following me on the Twitter-machine @CGRunyon to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get someone to make some sort of Moonrise KingdomFight Club mash-up video. Bye!

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