After six critically acclaimed films, Wes Anderson’s directorial style is instantly recognizable. From Bottle Rocket to Darjeeling Limited, his characters and their individual universes are meticulously crafted – little dollhouse dioramas for his own dry word play. Fans of Anderson relish in the details, the distance he keeps while maintaining off-kilter stories that cut to the core. Others believe that same distance and quirky dialogue ring hollow, or pretentious. Though his latest project, Moonrise Kingdom won’t necessarily change the minds of naysayers, those who fell in love with Max Fischer (Rushmore), Richie Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums), and Ash Fox (Fantastic Mr. Fox) will find delight in his newest lovebirds - Sam and Suzy.
Moonrise Kingdom is set on the fictional New England island of New Penzance in 1965, where there seems to be only one policeman (Bruce Willis), no infirmary, and a population of mostly children. On one end of the island, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) lives with her parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), and three brothers. With her Lolita-style mod mini-dress, smeared eye shadow and permanent scowl, Suzy clearly has plans of her own. Record player, Sunday-school shoes, and kitten in toe, Suzy makes her escape.
Across New Penzance, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman)has, in the words of Scout Randy Ward (Edward Norton), “flown the coop.” Where Suzy evokes a young Margot Tenenbaum, Sam, with his ‘coonskin cap and oversized glasses, is her Max Fischer. Through a series of flashbacks and letters, we learn that these two have been planning their escape for a year, breathlessly confessing their individual woes to each other. As they make their way through the rocky terrain of the island, the adults (along with some deadly-serious Khaki scout boys) set out to find the star-crossed lovers and bring them home.
Moonrise Kingdom is their ultimate destination, a shock of beach and sand and rock where Sam and Suzy make their own world. These scenes feel particularly autobiographical, for a writer/director who often shuts himself off from the realistic to painstakingly build worlds of his own to get lost in. He expertly captures the awkward moments of young love, as the two pitch their tent, shimmy to dreamy French-pop in their underwear, and share their first kiss (also French).
Anderson’s choice to focus on children is a stroke of mad genius -- the dialogue hits every note. When Suzy tells Sam she’s always wanted to be an orphan like him, Sam replies, ever so simply, “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” These two have not been broken by the world yet, but as a hurricane of parents, Khaki scouts, and yes, an actual hurricane surround them, Suzy and Sam must learn to recreate this magical Moonrise Kingdom within the confines of growing up.
While the inexperienced Gilman and Hayward play their parts with a solemn maturity, the childlike adults let loose on New Penzance. Norton has been sorely missed, and plays the ineffective Scout Master with sweet sincerity. Willis doesn’t stray too far from his usual routine, but the man can bring his own vulnerability when he wants to and is in top form as the lovelorn Captain Sharp. Keep an eye out for Jason Schwartzman as a fast-talking Khaki scout – a playful nudge at what Max Fischer might have grown up to be. Unsurprisingly, it’s Murray who steals each scene he’s in as Suzy’s depressive, axe-toting father.
Anderson’s usual team of co-writer Roman Coppola, cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, and production designer Adam Stockhausen are on their A-game. Whether it’s the delicate wilderness of New Penzance or the childlike undertones of the story, they’ve truly found a worthy setting for their talents in Moonrise Kingdom.
In fact, all the pieces come together in Wes Anderson’s latest triumph, giving us a wistful, tender look at that fleeting time when anything seems possible. Those who have yet to fall for the young filmmaker should give this one a chance. Moonrise Kingdom is clever, charming -- at times, terribly sad – and an absolute joy to watch.
For Fans Of: The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Wes Anderson
Why We Like It: gorgeous cinematography, brilliant writing, Wes Andersonian characters