From Left: Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Wes Anderson (Photo by: Pacific Coast News).
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Anderson's tale of young love is brought to life with such style and ingenuity, it's impossible not to be swept away into his world. Wes Anderson, who is to American filmmaking what Kurt Vonnegut is to American fiction, has another jewel to add to his cinematic storefront in Moonrise Kingdom. Well past famous by now for his signature new New Wave style, Anderson's work is lazily often referred to as "quirky" or "eccentric," words that only serve to trivialize a wonderful visionary. Vonnegut, in fact, would probably frown on these terms as examples of man-made marketing idioms like "snackalicious." The problem with a word like "quirky," despite its arguable veracity, is it does nothing to describe the emotional depth of what the work instills. Anderson is not out there making films at his whimsy like some sort of Frank Capra/Willy Wonka hybrid, he is interested in severe human emotions. His films are filled with a dreamlike sadness and if you don't feel it, well, maybe you should stop staring at the wallpaper.
Set in 1965, Anderson returns to the world of young love in Moonrise Kingdom, a theme he explored in 1999's Rushmore. His and co-writer Roman Coppola's two protagonists, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), are troubled preteens. Suzy tends to "go berzerk" and Sam is an orphan whose foster parents have just disowned him. Both, however, are infused with sharp, confident personalities that make them both endearing and sympathetic figures. The film's perfect moment comes when Sam responds to Suzy's musings that life as an orphan may not be all bad. "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about," he says. Her response? "I love you too."
The tale begins, in the fictional New England town of New Penzance Island, with a turntable shot inside Suzy's house as she and her brothers wake up. She soon slips out and the title credits roll as she and Sam meet in a meadow. A flashback sequence depicts their epistolary courtship and reveals they plan to run away together. It's not long before the town takes notice. Suzy's parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) react with fervor and enlist the help of the island's lawman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Meanwhile, at Sam's Khaki Scout campground, Marlboro-ripping Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) is shocked at the boy's Shawshank Redemption-inspired escape. "Jiminy Cricket! He flew the coop!"
Anderson's decision to make Sam a Khaki Scout is integral to the film. As the young couple hike through the island trails on the way to their new life together, Sam's character emerges as he displays his outdoor skills, mapping their path, tying a fantastic clothesline pulley knot, and setting up two award-worthy campsites. This all lends itself perfectly to Anderson's creative sensibilities. Save for Michel Gondry, no one creates art within the camera's frame with such prolific ingenuity.
Suzy's personality is drawn out in a different fashion. She is not a talker, as Sam is, so it takes time to get to know her. She runs away fully eye-shadowed and in a mini skirt, carrying her cat in a creel, her trusty binoculars, a suitcase filled with sci-fi books, and a record player. In their downtime, Suzy reads to Sam, an elegant touch that speaks to some universal longings. Does Suzy yearn for someone to take care of? Is Sam seeking the comfort only a mother can provide? Aren't we all?
While Sam and Suzy make camp in the woods, the adults and Sam's scoutmates (who had previously ostricized him) embark on a search. The adults bicker and argue while the scouts take on a Lord of the Flies-type mentality, painting their faces and carrying weapons. "If we find him, I'm not going to be the one who forgot to bring a weapon," says one, while another rides a motorcycle. In Anderson's movies, there is often a role reversal where children act like adults and vice versa.
More Anderson affections: music supervisor Randall Poster's soundtrack is typically on the nose, featuring Francoise Hardy, Hank Williams' Kaw-Liga, and Leonard Bernstein's dramatic orchestra. The color of Moonlight is classic Anderson. One scene that stands out is the home of Sam's foster parents, drenched in yellow, the color of cowardice. Shot mostly in Super 16mm, the film has a grainy dreamlike quality that only enhances the storybook romance. We are also treated to a beautiful production of Noye's Fludde, courtesy of the children. The set design and costumes are magical, straight out of Melies... or a Terry Gilliam film.
As always, Anderson's team of artists are at the top of their game. Robert D. Yeoman, who has shot all Anderson's live-action films, brings the fairy tale to life. Adam Stockhausen's production design and Gerald Sullivan's art direction are as meticulously gorgeous as ever, and Kasia Walicka-Maimone's costume design may be the film's biggest star. The Khaki Scout uniforms, the Noye's Fludde animal costumes, and the attire donned by supporting stars Tilda Swinton, as a Social Services officer, and Bob Balaban, as the film's Zissou-like narrator, stand out amongst the cast.
The film reaches its crescendo in a scene where all the characters come together as a hurricane (named Maybelline) descends on the island. The entire town watches as Suzy and Sam brave the elements in a desperate effort to stay together. I won't spoil the ending, but it's wonderfully realized as all the characters merge, it becomes apparant how desperate each of them are in the search for love. Lost long ago, whether they realize it or not, time has eroded the remembrance of how powerful love can be. They need look no further, nor do we, it lives on in Sam and Suzy.
See more photos of the cast of Moonrise Kingdom: