‘Moonrise Kingdom’ rises high. Why it’s Wes Anderson’s best film in a decade
The summer movie season will be remembered for a lot of things—big budget films (The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-man, Prometheus) are destined to embed themselves deeper into the ever Tweetable pop culture database—but here’s hoping audiences will opt for a story that has a lot of heart, too.
Enter writer/director Wes Anderson’s latest creative romp, Moonrise Kingdom, which is surely one of the year’s best films and, hopefully, one that will be remembered long after it leaves the box office.
To say this is one of Anderson’s finest outings to date is an understatement. It’s a unique triumph in conception, casting and execution, and a much more superior endeavor than the director’s last endeavor, The Darjeeling Limited in 2007. (What the hell—it may be better than The Royal Tenenbaums. There, I said it.)
Tenenbaums is, of course, Anderson’s memorable (albeit somewhat over rated) 2001 comedy about a dysfunctional family. Moonrise Kingdom is a period piece. Set in 1965 on the fictional island of New Penzance, it is, first and foremost, a story about first love and the unforgettable events that make up one of those magical summers of youth; the ones you don’t quite know are all that magical until you look back at them years later. But think back and conjure up that time in your own life for a moment … when the days lingered … and the impulse to be adventurous and seize the day totally consumed you.
It’s like that for the film’s two protagonists 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward turning in such wonderful performances you don’t want them to leave the screen), who have been writing love letters to each other for a year and are now plotting to run off together. Sam is a clever scout yet he’s mocked by his peers. (Edward Norton turns in a fine performance here as the troop’s cigarette-toting scoutmaster.) Suzy, always sporting blue eyeshadow, is sad and bored, and considers herself a problem child after finding a book on the subject in the island home run to tiring ends by her emotionally weathered parents (Frances McDormand and Anderson staple Bill Murray).
Anderson, who co-wrote this outing with Roman Coppola, keeps the focus of the tale on Sam and Suzy and the duo create something here so detailed, so perfectly shot, you lose yourself within it. You can spot these details in any of the scenes involving Sam’s troop—and other troops on the other end of the island run by another scoutmaster—which so vividly and believingly are brought to life. It’s the same in Suzy’s household, where everything from her curiously designed home to her brother’s portable, battery-operated ’60s record player, which she steals for her adventure with Sam, often feel like other characters.
Sam and Suzy experience some success attempting to bond with each other. (This could be the year’s most romantic couple.) They’ve both been disappointed by the adults in their lives, many of whom are portrayed here as creatures of habit, grasping for some semblance of sanity. (The film is set in 1965 and the times were full of political upheaval and disorientation, after all.)
Like most plans, regardless of their merit, Sam and Suzy’s come with obstacles. Once they’re found missing, everyone from the scouts and Suzy’s parents to the island’s patrol (Bruce Willis) are suddenly after them. (Tilda Swinton appears, too, as a sour Social Services worker.) Revealing the details to all of the plot points would be giving away too much, because the film should be experienced, but watch how beautifully Anderson and Coppola, as writers, handle the last third of the outing when
an incoming storm also works as a metaphor for the action unfolding so remarkably before our eyes.
Few films come along that when you’re experiencing them, you simply do not want them to end. Moonrise Kingdom is one of those films. It’s a rare and witty creative ride; a kind of dreamlike fairy tale whose spell is simply too hard to resist.
★★★ 1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>
With Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Francis McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Written by Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson. Directed by Wes Anderson. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Special midnight show Thursday, June 14 at The Del Mar.