Title: Moonrise Kingdom
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward
For the past eight years, filmmaker Wes Anderson has grown in the cinema world. Not only artistically but in popularity, but despite his somewhat mainstream appeal, his films have been hit or miss since 2004, with the release of “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Seemingly, Wes Anderson felt more concerned with aesthetic than storytelling and characters. But in 2009, with the release of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson seemed to be turning the corner in terms of blending his eye of detail on an art direction level and a general engagement to a general audience. “Moonrise Kingdom” has sharply made that turn for the better but still feels as if Wes Anderson is waiting at a traffic light.
The story of a renegade 12-year-old Khaki Scout (it’s Wes Anderson’s version of the Boy Scouts of America) Sam (Jared Gilman) and 12-year-old introspective aspiring actress Suzy (Kara Hayward) running away from home together in their small New England island town during the summer of 1965. The whole town is trying to find and rescue them as the two preteens become more and more intertwined as they explore their love for each other.
Honestly, the best parts of this movie are when Sam and Suzy are together on screen. Their awkward chemistry and innocent love affair is enough for the audience to stay invested into the story. Sam is reckless and noble and Suzy is shy and sincere, which makes for a winning combination. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are pretty fantastic in this film and considering “Moonrise Kingdom” is their first movie, it’s pretty charming. Jared Gilman channeling a young Bud Cort in Hal Ashby’s “Harold & Maude” and Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud,” and Kara Hayward as a stranger, younger version of Margot Tenenbaum from Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Sam is detailed oriented and a great camper and Suzy is passionate for science fiction novels with girl heroes (but not all the time) and obscure French pop music.
The film loses its footing when the two young lovers are not on screen. When the film deals with Suzy’s parents Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) failing marriage, Scout Master Ward’s (Edward Norton) impotence as a leader and Captain Sharp’s (Bruce Willis) pathetic life is when “Moonrise Kingdom” needs a rise in itself. The performances are fine but the narratives are dull and lifeless. Thematically, the film pays homage to the early works of François Truffaut, namely in “The 400 Blows” and “Stolen Kisses.” It serves as a (sort of) tribute to Truffaut’s young protagonist Antoine Doinel’s early life.
Wes Anderson’s signature style is apparent in “Moonrise Kingdom.” It’s exact, detailed and meticulous! The camerawork is impressive and precise, while paying homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” At times, the film feels more like a dollhouse or a diorama, but that’s just Wes Anderson’s style. It feels more apt in animation like in “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but Anderson finds the balance this movie needs with the increasingly charming two leads of Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Wes Anderson’s world is completely his only and unique, and you’re on board with it or not. Appreciation for Wes Anderson is key to a member of the audience’s enjoyment of “Moonrise Kingdom.” This film has a narrator giving facts about climate, products and landscape of the small island town of New Penzance. That screams of Wes Anderson’s sensibilities.
It’s a rarity in modern American filmmaking, where a filmmaker is considered a humanist than anything else. Wes Anderson’s work with “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “The Darjeeling Limited” lacks that human element, rather it be more concerned with its Maurice Sendak-like aesthetic than anything else. “Moonrise Kingdom” has so much heart and love that it would be impossible to sit through this movie and not smirk in a nostalgic way at least once during it. For better or worse, Wes Anderson work is here to stay and it’s a good thing to have pop art in modern cinema these days.