With every Wes Anderson outing, one can expect each character (even if they are foxes) to rattle off wittier than thou dialogue, embark on an eccentric (and soul searching) journey for a sense of belonging, and don an eclectic, mishmash of clothing any hipster would love. Mix in elaborate tracking shots, sumptuous art direction, and an inspired playlist of tunes of most people haven’t heard of, and voila…Wes Anderson gives birth to another first rate feature.
Moonrise Kingdom contains all of these ingredients, and Anderson’s unmatched mise en scene is in full effect to satiate his fervent devotees and the pickiest of cinephiles. It’s Anderson’s heart that reaches new depths with his latest, and greatest, effort, as his seemingly cutesy tale of two 12-year-olds running away from their elders is deliciously beguiling and, when the grown ups enter the picture, simply heartbreaking.
It’s 1965, and Sam (Jared Gilman) is a Khaki Scout who falls in love with Suzy (Kara Hayward), pointedly declaring his interest in a dressing room filled with other girls dressed as birds (Suzy, blessed with piercing, fiery eyes, is a raven). It’s a gutsy move for our bespectacled protagonist, and even though he’s the outcast among his fellow scouts, he’s got the moxie and passion that his colleagues lack. Suzy is also an outsider, whose violent tantrums in school are somewhat influenced by her lawyer parents’ (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) crumbling marriage and the understandable stupidity of her brothers (they’re too young to know any better). Seeking refuge in fantasy books where the heroine leads the charge, Suzy is actually Sam’s physical superior; he is bullied by his peers, but Suzy, with the temperament of the Incredible Hulk, takes out the Khaki Scouts during a bloody encounter in the woods. During a ceremony conducted by an older scout (Jason Schwartzman), it’s Suzy who takes Ben’s hand and leads the way.
Sam’s the idea and planning guy, and during his year exchanging letters back and forth with Suzy, he asks her to run away with him and venture into the wilderness of New Penzance. He’s also brutally frank, and in a humorous (yet tense) exchange with Suzy, he exclaims, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Their walkabout through the island, starting with their stirring reunion until they reach their moonrise kingdom, floats like a wistful, elusive daydream, and coupled with Anderson’s meticulous visual design, it’s just too beautiful for words.
It’s that halcyon idea of finding young, idealistic love, away from the things of man, that exist as a blip on the radar for the adults. Small town cop Captain Sharp (a refreshingly understated Bruce Willis) is resigned to a life of loneliness, and his halfhearted trysts with Suzy’s mom (McDormand) serves as his sole life preserver. Suzy’s father (Murray) has ignored his family for years, and any semblance of passion has been replaced with suffocating detachment. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), who holds himself personally responsible for Ben’s escape from camp, is the least dysfunctional of the grown-ups. Sans a significant other, his attentions are focused on the scouts’ welfare, and it’s his pure selflessness which adds to the narrative’s emotional resonance.
Inside his 1952 Spartanette trailer, Captain Sharp has a man to man talk with Sam (over a shared beer, no less), pretty much admitting that the child is far more intelligent than he could ever be. When Sam makes a valid argument, Sharp, in a moment of clarity (and hilarity), muses, “I can’t argue with you, then again I don’t have to. You’re 12 years old.”
Moonrise Kingdom is not just a grownups are dumb, kids are inevitably smarter fable. During one sequence, Sam, a talented painter, uses his brushstrokes to create a picture of his Moonrise Kingdom, an inlet whose primeval beauty survives even the ravages of Mother Nature (in this narrative, the antagonist is an impending storm). A willful Sam suggests it’s a paradise that’s actually tangible, even if it resides in our imagination. One assumes that given the affectionate, soulful hand he’s placed on his story, Mr. Anderson is already there.
Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13), also starring Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel, opens May 25th. Roman Coppola, who collaborated with Anderson on The Darjeeling Limited, co-wrote the screenplay.
Clip: Sam and Suzy embark on their journey.
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posted by Greg Srisavasdi (Twitter: @gsrisavasdi )