I’d like to start by saying that I am an unadulterated Wes Anderson fan. I have seen almost every single one of his films, and I’ve liked every single one. I came into this movie with high expectations, and Moonrise Kingdom surpassed them all. It’s great. See it.
Set in the mid 60′s on a tiny island off the coast of New England, the story centers around Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two emotionally…interesting 12-year-olds who turn out to be the most mature people in the whole film, in standard Anderson style. The two plan to run away together just as an enormous storm happens to be hitting the island. As events escalate (as they tend to do in these things), the result is a magical one. By setting it in the past, and by using either grainy film or a postproduction effect to yield a similar quality, the movie feels modern but also like a snapshot in time, aware of its own self-mockery and self-revelry. A desire to keep the film mysterious and elusive restrains me from elaborating on that description, but trust me, it’s otherworldly, in the most mundane ways.
How does it do this, though? While the two youngsters are the best duo at the center of a film I’ve seen in a long time, it is the phenomenal and bountiful supporting cast that truly brings this world to life and makes it rich beyond imagining. Frances McDormand and Bill Murray fill the classic Anderson niche of the dysfunctional family (they’re Suzy’s parents—Sam is an orphan), with Bruce Willis as the tired local sheriff and Edward Norton as the hapless scoutmaster, as well as Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and even Harvey Keitel rounding out the film with some exceptional cameo performances. Each of them has a unique form of interaction with the youthful pair that is subtle and nuanced—my personal favorites were Willis, Norton, and Schwartzman, filling the less-than-perfect father figure, hapless man-child, and hyper-serious goofball roles, respectively. These are the people that help craft the world that you just want to dive right into, sans inhibitions.
As good as a world is, though, it still needs a solid narrative thread to weave through it, and Moonrise Kingdom‘s is golden. Anderson and his fellow screenwriter Roman Coppola have perfected their craft. The tale is a simple one, ostensibly, but it’s so richly textured that nothing feels out of place—the flawless visual comedy fits neatly between the simple, beautiful reenactments of young love and the soul-crushing iterations such emotion can take over time, not to mention the delicate, wondrous score by Alexandre Desplat (can we seriously get that guy an Oscar already?). As I’ve said, it’s a story that thrives on its simplicity, and in that sense, it is like other Anderson films—in fact, that’s what Moonrise feels like, overall: it’s like Wes Anderson looked
at all his films and hand-picked the elements that worked best, discarding the ones that never meshed quite right. The movie is uncluttered, streamlined and elegant.
The thing that makes this movie so readily watchable, over and over, is the sense of familiarity it carries. It takes place in a decade that has been romanticized to death. It is a story of young love that is ironic in its lack of irony, but never gives way to sap. It is attractive because it is utterly confident—it knows what it is capable of, what ridiculousness it can pull off, and pulls no punches in following through on that promise of ridiculousness. It’s the type of movie that certain cinemaphiles will scoff at, but one that will wear their scorn proudly, as a scout’s badge, a commendation of a job well done. Its bravado is well-deserved.
You know, I really like the fact that this job has forced me to see so many bad movies. Yeah, they’re an awful two hours or so, but they have truly raised my appreciation for movies that are actually good. Moonrise Kingdom is a movie that is actually good. In fact, it’s incredible. It is every cliché, but this just makes you love it all the more; it is fun for the whole family, a high-stakes adventure, a drama, a feel-good comedy, and most importantly, it’s my favorite film of the year so far. It is without qualms that I give this movie an A.