Moonrise Kingdom Directed by: Wes Anderson Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban Running Time: 1 hr 34 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: June 1, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A pair of kids (Gilman, Hayward) run away on a New England island, which causes parents, troop leaders and the police to go searching.
WHO'S IT FOR? For some people, this is their Dark Knight Rises, and those folk certainly don't need even a nudge to go see this. As a friend pointed out, this is one movie that uses kids that's actually made for adults. To misquote The Brady Bunch Movie, "Put on your Sunday best, kids; we're going to the new Wes Anderson!"
EXPECTATIONS: In my list involving my most anticipated films of this summer, Moonrise Kingdom was at number six. Though I knew this movie was bound to have a recognizable Wes Anderson charm, I was open to just how much of his definitive style would seep through. Especially after years of people trying to borrow from him, with what kind of fresh grace would he return to live action, especially after Fantastic Mr. Fox?
Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam & Suzy: Despite his big glasses and what sounds like a speech impediment, foster child Sam is confident in himself and in his ability to talk to ladies. Suzy has an equal amount of angst against the world, but shows in it a look that is way too European for a young girl corralled in New England. In their delightful shared scenes, their chemistry is one in which they need each other, and with such a story as Moonrise Kingdom, we certainly need them, together. Score: 7
Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward: In the world of Moonrise Kingdom, scout troops invert strength in regards to age - when you are young, you are strong and adventurous, and when you are the old, the opposite is the case. Norton's performance, which puts his kind eyes on full vulnerable display, puts his character in the middle of this spectrum. His spirit has been weakened by his "mature" duties (he's lonely, and not sure about whether he loves being a math teacher or not), but he eventually has exciting bursts of youthfulness (as we see in two strangely beautiful jumps later in the movie). Score: 6
Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp: Even with just how he holds a picture in the beginning of the search party, Willis does a notable job at embodying weakness in aging. For the small parts that his character does offer this story, Willis is in tune with the dryness of Anderson, and also the spiritual deficiency of his character. Score: 6
Rest of Cast: To make it a certified Anderson movie, Bill Murray is featured in the film, but only shuffles in and out of the focus when doing random (yet usually amusing) things. Frances McDormand plays Murray's wife, but only has one strong scene, and it's with Hayward in the third act. Score: 5
TALKING: More so than any other of the film's components, the dialogue of Moonrise Kingdom will inspire re-evaluations of Anderson's previous movies. When we hear the children speak in concise sentences, we understand what he was going for in past movies, when we heard adults speak in the same way. Having these children speak one sentence at a time, with awkward dryness, only makes perfect sense out of the portrayals in Anderson's previous work. Score: 7
SIGHTS: The large bag of aesthetic tricks that Anderson has lovingly carried in previous movies still colors his world, with the liveliness of such components (when all are put together) being highly intact. For fans of Anderson's distinctive style, it's all of the things you excitedly expect: the tracking shots run alongside events as if they were capturing a carefully rehearsed stage production, and the camera quality is old fashioned, as if this story really was filmed decades ago (especially if you see this movie in theaters, on film). The look of the movie is as vintage as its spirit, and successfully so. Score: 8
SOUNDS: The Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack uses two drastically different classes of music to create a personification of both intellectual properness and dirt-faced ragamuffin-ness. Sunday best classical tunes like Benjamin Britten's "Songs from Friday Afternoons" (complete with tender child choir vocals) are mixed with a handful of yodelin' Hank Williams tunes, including "Long Gone Lonesome Blues," "Kaw-Liga," and "Ramblin' Man." For the movie's very European moment (involving children discovering sexuality), Francoise Hardy's "Le Temps de l'Amour" peeks into the film. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: The entire scene of which the two are at "Moonrise Kingdom," including Sam's awkward dance and their extremely delicate kiss.
ENDING: We finally learn the meaning of "Moonrise Kingdom," and are left with a briefly shown dedication to a person called "Juman."
QUESTIONS: How much will people like this movie (including myself) for simply being a Wes Anderson movie? What does Roman Coppola contribute to Anderson's screenplays?
REWATCHABILITY: With their visual depth and unique energy, Anderson's films all have high replay value, and this one is no different. Parts of this story might turn out to be slower than others, but it's bound to keep you involved even with just its visuals.
In Moonrise Kingdom, the young men and one woman are strong, while the adults are weak. Unfortunately, this is not the case with just the spirit celebrated by the characters, but their construction in the story as well.
With its young characters, especially its charming adolescent couple, Anderson speaks of the innocence of being young, and the naiveté behind our actions at such an age; when our imagination is what provides us the inspiration for the adventures we crave, and when violence only has the most dramatic or heroic of repercussions.
Along with this, Moonrise Kingdom also blissfully re-presents to us those moments when the concept of love is totally pure. There's no anxiety concerning self-esteem, or anything else related to the hundreds of factors that make relationships complicated when you're even five years older than these kids. More than anything else, the person that we are enamored with is like a companion with whom we share an adventure.
The goofiness of a young boy in a coonskin cap trying to run away with a girl carrying a kitten in her purse is given injections of soul by Anderson's concise aesthetics, especially his cinematography that turns touching moments into beautiful ones (such as when the two are at their own camp). Anderson certainly makes these chapters of Moonrise Kingdom more than just "cute," but at the same time the "Junior Explorers" cuteness of such a sweet story definitely can't be overlooked.
While the grown-ups of Moonrise Kingdom do offer more than just the parental muted trumpet squawking of a "Peanuts" cartoon, (a reported influence on Anderson), the wisdom is not much more that. These characters are comparatively underdeveloped to the vibrant children, and their characteristics of "bored" are too easily confused for "boring." Despite the strong star presence of "big" actors like Willis, Norton, Swinton, and McDormand portraying the weakness of spirit in age, they offer little to such a story; even Anderson's beloved Bill Murray can be seen shuffling around Moonrise Kingdom, trying to find something interesting (or dare I say, hip?) to add to this movie. Their journey is a heavy metaphor of "older people searching for youth," and it becomes such an ineffectual concept within the movie's strong and youthful heart.
Perhaps this is why the scene-stealer/real hero of Moonrise Kingdom is narrator Bob Balaban, who looks like he stole a role from Bill Murray. Balaban's small informational chirps in the script provide portions of Anderson's dryness while also making the surroundings come alive with his unique tidbits. As he breaks the fourth wall in the movie's giddiest moments, he's dressed like a twenty-something Brooklyn hipster in December, yet doesn't look any younger. Or, take Jason Schwartzman's brief dorky appearance as Cousin Ben, a leader of scouts who doesn't come off as a true embodiment of mature masculinity despite a thorough mustache and sunglasses. These are older actors (than the kids, at least) whose usage offers something quirky (the good kind of quirky) about not being restrained to the expectations that come with age. These tidbits certainly stand out from the hum-drum marches that these slightly wasted performances can easily fall into sync with.
In the context of Wes Anderson's well-adored filmography, Moonrise Kingdom is a successful rescue of his style from the redundant Darjeeling Limited, and especially from the automatically Anderson Fantastic Mr. Fox, not to mention the many filmmakers who have tried to bootleg his style in their own stories. Though there's certainly been some weariness since the days of The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson's decade-old charms feel youthful once more.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10