With Moonrise Kingdom we get to see Wes Anderson at his Wes-Anderson-iest (I’m sticking with that horribly unimaginative adjective until someone shows me a better way to describe his work), which is to say, this film is a lot like the rest of his films. That means Moonrise Kingdom is chock full of gorgeous cinematography, obscure ‘60s music, deadpan performances, dry comedy, and Bill Murray. Wes Anderson fans will praise it; Wes Anderson haters will despise it. Regardless, this movie contained everything I’ve come to expect from the auteur.
That leaves me at something of a loss when attempting to review this film. You see, I’ve never been a follower or a detractor of the director. Anderson is undoubtedly one of the most technically competent directors in America at the moment; few filmmakers surpass him in his ability to craft an aesthetically pleasing movie. I find his sense of humor, however, almost off-puttingly quirky, and I find his productions a little too self-consciously clever. Everything Anderson makes ends up being a little too artificial for me, and yet, I still admire him for making the type of films he wants to make. For all of the slack ass imitators he’s left in his wake, no one in Hollywood makes a movie quite the way he does. So I almost invariably leave each of his movies admiring him for his craftsmanship and originality, but irritated by his eccentricities. This film isn’t any different.
Moonrise Kingdom, set on an island off the coast of New England during the mid 1960’s, follows the exploits of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two troubled teens who fall in love and attempt to escape together. The wheels of the plot begin spinning when Sam, a member of the Khaki Scouts, flees his troop with a backpack full of provisions for his journey. The troop’s chain smoking scoutmaster, played by Edward Norton in aw-shucks-Jimmy-Stewart mode, notifies the island’s only cop (a suitably laconic Bruce Willis) and assigns the rest of the scouts the duty of tracking Sam down. Suzy meanwhile unites with Sam, escaping from her own household headed by (an even more laconic) Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.
Despite the emphasis placed on the adult cast members in the trailers for this movie, Moonrise Kingdom is really about the burgeoning love of the two pubescents. As the two kids trek through miles of forest and beach together, free from the constraints of parental guardians, they awkwardly attempt to conform to their societal roles. One of the sweetest aspects of the film is how Sam attempts to woo Suzy by providing for her, proudly showing off the few survival skills he learned as a member of the Khaki Scouts. Suzy, meanwhile, attempts to become the ideal woman for Sam; as played by Kara Hayward, Suzy is probably the most sexualized teenager to hit the screen since Sue Lyon in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. Anderson thankfully dials things back before the proceedings get too creepy.
All in all, however, Moonrise Kingdom deals with awkwardness of puberty and the pain of becoming an adult in a manner that doesn’t condescend to young adults or trivialize their emotions. By the roll of credits, we realize that Sam and Suzy are probably the two most mature characters in the film. That’s refreshingly different for a film dealing with this subject matter.
On the technical front, Wes Anderson lives up to his reputation by turning in another gorgeous film, full of warm colors, surreal sets, and meticulously orchestrated camera work. Anderson is one of the few directors working in Hollywood who seems to be able to sum up a character, not through simple exposition, but by placing characters in a fully realized environment and by quietly following those characters as they move through that environment. Take, for instance, the idiosyncratic house occupied by Suzy’s family: one look through Anderson’s camera at the uneven floor plans and the manner in which McDormand and Murray have barricaded themselves within their individual offices and you can simply tell the troubling emotional state of the household before any of the characters utter a word.
Moonrise Kingdom is a gorgeous film, built on the foundation of a heartfelt story, and held together by some fine performances. Wes Anderson’s consummate dryness still leaves me a little cold, and therefore, I can only feel comfortable recommending this movie to people who are familiar with Wes Anderson and like his work, but Moonrise Kingdom is still an original, well-crafted film floating amidst a Summer season padded with sequels, reboots, comic book movies, and sequels to comic book movie reboots. Anyone looking for something different should see Moonrise Kingdom.