Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
written by: Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson
producd by: Jeremy Dawson, Scott Rudin,Wes Anderson & Steven M. Rales
directed by: Wes Anderson
rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: May 25, 2012
It seems like every time a new Wes Anderson film comes out, the word “quirk” is thrown around to describe not just his latest feature, but the director’s entire filmography as well. Admittedly, his films are hard to describe and that may be a streamlined way to do so, but it’s become old hat and I’d like it to end. It’s as bad as “artsy-fartsy“, which is a term I loathe. Let’s just allow his fine-tuned distinctive style and unique tone to be, without any explanation. After all, everything Andersonesque about his seventh feature-film shouldn’t be a surprise to avid followers like myself, or those naysayers out there. That’s right, some folks may not find his films to be their thing, but I firmly believe that Anderson, who also produces and writes his distinctive cinematic tales, populates them with characters that everyone can relate to.
At the heart of the magical “Moonrise Kingdom” are two misunderstood and possibly unappreciated tweens, in love with each other and in wonder with life. That right there supports my belief. We’ve all experienced adolescent love – or infatuation, call it what you will – and we’ve felt it deeply, despite adults telling us we don’t know what it is we’re feeling. Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola (“The Darjeeling Limited”) treat the pubescent affair with respectful accuracy, while providing the story with adult players who seem to have problems of their own to work out, whether or not they know it.
Much is happening on the remote New England island of New Penzance in 1965, as the film’s narrator (Bob Balaban) intently informs us. There’s a building storm brewing from the Atlantic, that we are told will make a mess of the coast “in three day’s time”. That’s unfortunate for Sam and Suzy, two twelve year-olds who’ve run away together after developing a committed long-distance friendship from a devoted pen pal-ship.
Suzy (Kara Hayward) caught Sam’s eye at a local church pageant (complete with a sweet version of Noye’s Fludde, aka Noah’s Ark by Benjamin Britten) and since then Sam (Jared Gilman) has become smitten/obsessed with the girl. Suzy is just as enamored, but as it always goes, not as much as Sam. Nevertheless, the two agree to meet up and spend however long in the wilderness of the island. Sam, a prepared and practical Khaki Scout, brings a couple of bed rolls along with essential provisions. Suzy shows up with a suitcase full of her favorite kid-lit books, a battery-powered record player, and her kitten. Their adventure, full of romanticism and whimsy, is about to begin.
But who or what are they running away from? Well, Sam is an orphan whose most recent foster parents have made it clear to police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) that they don’t want him back. Supposedly, the kid is out of control or troubled, but we begin to think we may know better. To make matters worse, the kids in the Khaki Scout troop on the island’s Camp Ivanhoe dislike him, despite the support of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). Suzy lives with her family, but is seemingly overlooked by her lawyer parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), and overwhelmed by her other siblings. When word gets out that the two kids are missing, it sends these already beleaguered adults in a panic. Scout Master Ward leads his reluctant troops into a wide search in the woods for Sam, while doing his best to avoid alerting his superiors, like Commander Pierce (a hilarious Harvey Keitel) of the situation. Captain Sharp, who is in the process of a waning affair with Laura, sets out to find Suzy. The search gets complicated, mainly because the adults involved are distracted by their own issues, but when all parties become entwined and they learn that both children are together, everything seems to escalate.
Far from the search, Suzy and Sam revel in their time bonding together. They share stories of parental frustration. Suzy reads her books out loud to Sam. Sam builds an ideal seaside campsite. And the two confess their love for each other. But, like the coming storm, the adults are closing in on them, as is Social Services (represented by a android-like Tilda Swinton), brought in to scoop up Sam. They may get a little help from Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman) but they’re going to have to rely on themselves in the end. The two heroes must brave the perfect storm that swirls around them that threatens to take away their bliss, while maintaining an endearing connection that might teach these adults a thing or two about themselves.
One can easily check off all the wonderful characteristics that kind be found in a Wes Anderson film in “Moonrise Kingdom”. His aesthetic and ideals are present and accounted for here, and yet as noticeable as they are, at no point do we feel like he is simply recycling himself. He is just being true to who he is, confirming to audiences that although his personal style will remain intact, he will continue to forge ahead and tell new and endearing stories. That’s something I can get behind, having been a fan of his work ever since “Rushmore”. Not every one of his films strike me in the same way, and I may be fond of some of them more than others, but I always respect, appreciate and anticipate his work.
That being said, when “Moonrise Kingdom” finished I found myself still registering everything I had just taken in. The unique sets by Kris Moran (a longtime Anderson collaborator), the wonderful art design by Gerald Sullivan (who also worked on next month’s “The Dark Knight Rises”), and the incomparable cinematography by Robert Yeoman, who has served on every Anderson film as DP, except “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (which is ironic since this plays very much like a live-action cousin to “Mr. Fox” in it’s movement and pacing), were all quite memorable. As expected with an Anderson film, the soundtrack adds to the magic, with a score by Alexandre Desplat (“The King’s Speech”), and although it may give regular Anderson composer Mark Mothersbaugh a backseat, it’s still equally intoxicating as one would expect. Incorporating music that complements the characters and their place in life, shares his space with the likes of Hank Williams Sr. and Francoise Hardy.
Still, I felt myself wanting more after it was all over and I think I know what it is – I wanted more time with these characters. They were all so interesting, but there were so many of them (especially the adult characters), that I found myself wondering about who they really were. While I appreciate the time I spent with them and what Anderson chose to tell us about them, I was still left wondering about how many of them came to be where they were at. With so such stellar talent like Norton, Willis, and McDormand, supporting these two impressive first-time lead actors, it’s easy to see why more time with them would be rewarding.
While the film is funny and delightful, both in what is happening in the background and what the actors are doing, what gives the film its heart is the intuitive script by Anderson and Coppola. Seen primarily in the scenes with just Suzy and Sam, as these two outcasts get to know each other with Anderson carefully documents their exploration of intimacy, but it’s their dialogue that conveys how real they seem as characters. Their physical closeness could’ve been uncomfortable (and granted, it may be for some), but it still feels natural, because neither Anderson or the actors make anything overtly sexual about these scenes.
As much as these characters feel real, there’s still a certain amount of irrational behavior and indefinable situations. And that’s totally fine with me. I found myself contently kicking back and enjoying how it all plays out. Like Anderson’s other films, “Moonrise Kingdom” needs additional viewings in order for me to fully appreciate it, but I must say the more I think about it the more I want to watch it again. That is a rare and good feeling.