Review: 'Moonrise Kingdom' is Wes Anderson's Most Endearing Yet
by Jeremy Kirk
June 15, 2012
What Wes Anderson lacks in variety he makes up for with a trademark style, a parade of interesting characters against a vibrant background, recreating the stories and places of his childhood. Anderson crafts and moves pieces, all lined up in colorful rows. As "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" by Leonard Bernstein narrates near the beginning of Moonrise Kingdom, all the pieces work towards the overall story and theme, and this latest film will go down as his most lighthearted and personal of achievements. Yes, even more so than Fantastic Mr. Fox. With time, Moonrise Kingdom could be seen as Anderson's best.
It's 1965, and Sam and Suzy, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are twelve-year-olds who feel they don't belong in their current situations. Sam is an orphan whose foster parents have decided they don't want him any more while he's off attending "Khaki Scout" Summer camp. Suzy lives with her malcontent parents on the same island as the Summer camp. The two children conspire to run away with one another, to seek adventure on the small island and find their home somewhere in the wilderness. Meanwhile, Suzy's parents and Sam's troop mates including a chain-smoking Scout Master, search the island for the kids hoping to snap them back into reality.
Feeling lost in your own home is nothing new to Anderson. Neither is adventure to mask the griefs of a dysfunctional family. His setups are as familiar as they are specific. But the stories Anderson mushrooms out of these typical themes are varied enough in their own, multicolored way. Rushmore was high school in broad strokes. The Royal Tenenbaums had its darkness, the smaller fractions of gray that fit with the film's very adult arcs. The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited used their specific settings and painted the world with their respective palettes. They had their own darkness, as well. Fantastic Mr. Fox utilized its stop-motion animation to demonstrate the freedom of the technique.
Moonrise Kingdom is childhood nostalgia through and through, the tiniest moments of that darkness Anderson always brings to the table seeping in, and why shouldn't it? Those moments truly are the times that shape us, that drag us out of childhood and into the ocean of a world that awaits us as adults. For Sam and Suzy, this island is their world, they finally feel free with each other, and Anderson writes and directs these characters with a powerful affection.
With that affection comes a wave of humor, as Moonrise Kingdom begins with the comedy right from the start and never lets up. If there are a thousand, different shots in Moonrise Kingdom, there could very well be a thousand, hysterical moments. Whether they be characters acting and reacting in the foreground or something ridiculous but very palpable in the background, they never cease pulling laughter out of you. Even in the more dramatic moments, the light touch Anderson incorporates in Moonrise Kingdom finds a way to make it seem less serious. Most of the time he's just trying to make you laugh. More often, much more often, than not, he's succeeding.
Though they all seem very personal, you can't question the logic of anything in the world of Moonrise Kingdom. That "something ridiculous" is often strewn throughout all of Anderson's films, not held back one iota for his latest, and it's usually the catalyst for the biggest laughs. He has the narrator of the film, played here with dramatic and hilarious stoicism by Bob Balaban, appear on camera, address the audience directly, and even strike a pose on the rocky shore at one point. Anderson moves his pieces and places them in such a way that they look as if they're performing in a stage play, as if the world around them is made of little more than painted wood and a cloth backdrop. You know they're not. Anderson and career-long cinematographer Robert Yeoman shoot the very real Rhode Island locale with a grand eye.
Balaban is just one of the many, fine actors Anderson has brought into his world this go-around. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are awkward in their loneliness as Suzy's parents. Bruce Willis brings the Bruce Willis charm to the island authority figure who has his own loneliness and who longs for a family of his own. The later moments between Willis, Gilman, and Hayward are among the most heartwarming scenes in recent memory. The action star has a way of softening when the character calls for it, and his sincere gentleness towards the child actors is evident.
Edward Norton plays Sam's Scout Master, and, although the actor's way of making his character try to appear confident when he's completely lost - there's that word again - makes him the funniest part throughout the film, he seems disconnected from Moonrise Kingdom's emotional center. Even when Harvey Keitel shows up as the Khaki Scout Commander, there's very little in the way of justifiable tie-in with the rest of the story. The subplot between the two plays out, means little, and is forgotten about. It's really the film's only, true blemish when it comes to Anderson's writing.
But Gilman and Haywayd, the film's stars, are its brightest aspect. Not trained actors so to speak, they each bring a sincerity to their respective roles. Children in films often don't act like children, they act like children written for film, that talk out of their age group and left the word "precocious" way behind. Between the writer's craftsmanship on the characters and the honest portrayal Gilman and Hayward bring to them, Sam and Suzy fit right in with the best characters in Anderson's stable.
And that merit for Moonrise Kingdom fits right in with it easily being a contender for the best film of Anderson's career. There are those who don't find enough diversity in Anderson's work, that his style is too similar from film to film and his stories and themes too parallel. To an extent, they're right, but this typical style is what makes a Wes Anderson movie very plainly a Wes Anderson movie. Few directors have that recognizable of a style that allows you to realize who it is behind the camera from only a shot or two of footage. With that familiarity between each film, Anderson tells remarkable stories in even more remarkable worlds. Moonrise Kingdom, a story of lost people on a seemingly lost island, is his most fulfilling and remarkable story yet.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10