Title: Moonrise Kingdom
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Lucas Hedges, Charlie Kilgore, Gabriel Rush
It’s one thing to make a movie feel unique, but Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is almost otherworldly. While the film’s centerpiece pre-teen romance packs the power to earn a place in anyone’s heart, some readjusting is required to appreciate the film as a whole. But, if you’re willing to let loose and fall in line with Anderson’s techniques, Moonrise Kingdom proves to be an absolutely unforgettable pleasure.
The film takes place on a small island in the summer of 1965. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is home with family, spending her time longingly looking out the window with her binoculars while Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is out camping with his Khaki Scout troop – or so their guardians think. One morning Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and the boys of Troop 55 wake up to find that Sam has run away while Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) discover that Suzy has packed her things and left.
With a threatening storm on the horizon, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) desperately tries to track down the missing 12-year-olds with the help of Scout Master Ward and his wilderness survival savvy troops. Meanwhile Suzy and Sam enjoy some alone time out in the woods, testing the romantic waters.
The story is rather straightforward, however, director Wes Anderson’s visual techniques are far from it. If you’re going to make a film as highly stylized as Moonrise Kingdom, it’s basically an all or nothing deal. Anderson certainly doesn’t hold back in the least and it pays off big time.
You know what you’re in for from the moment the film begins. As the opening credits role, Anderson utilizes one long tracking shot to introduce the audience to the Bishop household. We move swiftly from room to room, highlighting the film’s comedic undertone while also showing off a rather somber environment, offering up a hint of the piece’s somewhat tragic side. Visually, Moonrise Kingdom isn’t natural in the least, Anderson packing the feature with whip pans, split screens and other techniques that contradict realism, but by pairing that hyperactive camera with more subdued performances, he strikes a wildly intriguing balance.
Also blending quite well are those performances and the series of events. Few characters yell, lash out or emote excessively, but the things they do are extreme. A particularly powerful humor comes from the characters playing it straight while in absurd situations. And even while Moonrise Kingdom has a bit of a sketch comedy vibe, there’s more than enough honest emotion there to really make you feel for the leads.
Anderson wins big with his two newcomers, Hayward and Gilman, who not only nail the humor, but also share a totally believable chemistry. Even while the focus is on our young duo, many of the adult actors, particularly Norton, McDormand and Willis, make use of small, but effective arcs, each with a unique misfortune that turns into a satisfying payoff. While the members of Troop 55 aren’t particularly fleshed out characters, each and everyone is original and amusing enough to make an impact.
Further solidifying the tone of Moonrise Kingdom are the sets and the costume design. Anderson literally builds a new world and then uses Sam and Suzy’s story, and a narrator (Bob Balaban), to give you a tour of the area. The island of New Penzance always remains in the background, but the notable attention to detail not only helps in framing Sam and Suzy’s story, but also makes the film as a whole a more engrossing experience.
Making Moonrise Kingdom even more of an unusual specimen is the score, which runs through nearly the entirety of the film. Usually excessive music can suck the life out of a movie or be guilty of foreshadowing, but in the case of Moonrise Kingdom, that ever-present score is quite necessary. While Anderson, his cast and his creative team all do an excellent job selling their piece of the puzzle, without that plucky tune to guide you and hit the proper comedic beats, the whole film undoubtedly would fall flat.
Moonrise Kingdom is a particularly delicate film; had one element not been pitch perfect, the whole production could have come tumbling down. However, that’s certainly not the case and what results is a wonderfully refreshing experience, one that’s got humor and heart, and, overall, is just a very well planned and well made production.