With Moonrise Kingdom, writer-director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox) delivers one of the purest, truest, most whimsical love stories ever.
The film sensationally plays with qualities that can easily destroy any story: blatantly touching moments, without sparking the instinctive eye-rolling response; beautifully crafted cinematography, but not intolerably indulgent; and writing that is humorously highbrow without pretentiously ignoring the weight of slapstick humor.
And, if for some unbeknownst reason you miss the whole charm of two 12-year-olds embarking on a hilariously impractical journey of love and quirky misbehavior and deem it silly, corny nonsense, you are depriving yourself, as Moonrise Kingdom is a perspective of love and comedic perfection for even the most cynical of heart. It’s simply radiant.
It’s 1965 on a quaint little island a few miles off the shore of New England defined by its obvious lack of out-of-the-ordinary occurrences and obvious negligence (or maybe ignorance, as it is never referenced) of the political turmoil on the mainland. It exists as a secluded quiet community that carries on along unpaved roads, sporting overly conventional clothing (a humorlessly embellished version of a 1960s Sears catalogue) and peaceful civility.
Needless to say, when two 12-year-olds are discovered missing, the community immediately abandons any level of reason and panics into a state of controlled irrationality.
The chaos kicks off when a 12-year-old boy, Sam (Jared Gilman), goes missing from his Khaki Scout Troop (aptly named by the color the organization adorns). Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) finds a politely written resignation letter in Sam’s tent, clearly affirming Sam departed courteously on his own volition.
Scout Master Ward alerts the town sheriff, Captain Sharp, presumably the only law enforcement figure on the island (played by a balding, submissive and deliberately unattractive Bruce Willis), of the potential gravity of the situation. Following some door-to-door visits by Ward and Sharp, the Bishop family discovers that their 12-year-old daughter Suzy (Kara Hayward) is also at large with her fugitive pen pal.
Fueled by loneliness, boredom and mutual senses of abandonment by their parents, Sam and Suzy, meanwhile, rendezvous in a meadow most ridiculously under and over prepared: a tent, rocks to suck on in case of dehydration, binoculars, a tape player with one album, stolen library books and some rope for their innocent, awkward and fascinating escape on an island small enough to cover within hours.
Through Sam’s masterfully acquired Khaki Scout skills and Suzy’s appreciation for the arts (meaning stolen library books and a tape player she “borrowed” from her younger brother), the two children are more than prepared for their innocent, awkward and fascinating escape.
Due to lack of manpower, the fellow Khaki Scout troop members are unofficially deputized to expand the search party, a responsibility taken with such hysterical seriousness that one member asks if they are authorized to use force if necessary. Armed with hunting knives, axes, a crossbow and any other completely superfluous and hilariously over-the-top weaponry, the boys head off into the island’s not-so-wild forest and streams to find the lovers.
With determined seriousness, Sam and Suzy do manage to capture the most blissful moments together of their short, experience-less lives. And after the imminent arrival of the entire search party (within 24 hours), it only teaches them how to better plan their next escape.
Aided and abetted by senior scout member Ben (Jason Schwartzman), Suzy and Sam head off on a much more determined and permanent adventure with Captain Sharp, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Scout Master Ward and Social Services (Tilda Swinton, exclusively referred to by her profession, not any formal name) not-so-hot on their trail.
It’s a love story in its purest form: untainted, naive and refreshingly clear, with fairytale like realism. Sam and Suzy are 12-year-olds, sure, but that’s what makes Moonrise Kingdom so perfect. It is nostalgic, but not nauseatingly corny. A love story for adults channeled through two clever children on the brink of adulthood.
Beyond that, and always consistent with Anderson, the Moonrise cast is perfectly engineered. The intelligent, trademark writing (by Anderson and Roman Coppola) far surpasses expectations, even from Anderson. He has truly outdone himself and further proves himself to be one of Hollywood’s great modern auteurs, thankfully preserving film as an art and reinstating hope in the midst of summer blockbuster trash.
Moonrise Kingdom is now playing at The Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood.
For more information, visit the film’s official website.