Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson is a genius. That much is clear. He came onto the film scene in 1996 with his debut movie Bottle Rocketat only 27 years of age, a solid debut if a bit rough around the edges, but then only two years later he blew people away with his masterpiece Rushmore. This was a man with a voice and style of his own, a true auteur.
But has he managed to keep this genius up?
Pretty much. While Rushmore still remains his crowning achievement (so far), he’s made at least two more masterpieces (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), one near-masterpiece (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and one very good, if a tad too broad, film (The Darjeeling Limited).
And now we’ve got Moonrise Kingdom, and we can officially add that to his list of masterpieces. It’s set in 1965 and tells the tale of two 12-year-old kids, a boy scout named Sam (Jared Gilman) and an emotionally troubled girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward) who fall in love and elope – from his boy scout group and her parents respectively. They live on a small island and soon pretty much the whole community starts searching for them, including Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the town sheriff (Bruce Willis) and Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton).
It’s clear from the get go that this is Un film de Wes Anderson. Elegantly staged scenes of people symmetrically placed and centered in an apartment that’s decorated like some sort of theatre stage. The opening title fonts that look handwritten with a quilt pen and lots of quirky details. Then we have a man (Bob Balaban) introducing certain elements of the films setting and the fact that a storm will take place three days henceforth.
Even though Wes Anderson’s films always have certain familiar elements, certain themes and visual cues that are always there, he never really repeats himself. You could say he’s basically always telling stories about kids who behave like adults and adults who behave selfishly, with a bit of bad parenting thrown in, but he always finds a new way to tell that story. In Moonrise Kingdom kids are the main characters for the first time in a Wes Anderson movie.
Moonrise Kingdom is brimming with beautiful visuals, you could really take almost any random frame from this movie and it would make a great poster on your wall. Anderson is a true visual stylist who realises the importance the visual part plays in movies. The movie is filled with delightfully quirky details such as a treehouse on top of a very tall and narrow tree
The cast is also great with good performances from everyone. We’ve got the usual Anderson regulars in Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray but there’s also Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. All newcomers to Wes’s world. They all manage well and fit nicely; Norton especially is good as the leader of the boy scouts, getting just the right tone for his character. But the real standouts here are the two kids, Kara Hayward and especially Jared Gilman who has real charm and character and will hopefully have a colourful career in the world of cinema.
What really makes this movie work is how unpredictable it is. You rarely feel like you know what might happen next and the movie keeps on you on your toes throughout, while still remaining light on it’s feet. It’s fast paced and lively and hardly ever goes the typical way of things. It’s also wonderfully free of any pop-culture references (except for ancient pop culture, french music from the 60’s and whatnot) and truly has a time and place of it’s own. Mr. Anderson truly knows how to transport a viewer to a new world that doesn’t feel too familiar. A great soundtrack also helps with that, including this beautiful song.
Mainly, though, Moonrise Kingdom is simply funny as hell. Anderson’s trademark deadpan sense of humour is apparent throughout and works like a charm. It’s wonderful how casually Anderson tosses off some of his sight gags, with the camera panning over a location and various things going in the frame which you might not notice if you’re not watching carefully. Everything is so carefully orchestrated and yet feels effortless and unforced, yet it’s so filled with detail that you surely have to watch the movie at least twice to drink it all in.
Moonrise Kingdom is a movie about what it means to grow up and also what it means to love. The love between parents and children, as well as the love (or lack of love) between a man and a woman, or a boy and a girl. We all need love, or to be loved, but it’s rarely easy and sometimes you have to fight for it. It’s a simple truth but Moonrise Kingdom conveys it eloquently and beautifully and most of all, very enjoyably.
There’s really not much fault to find with this movie. Basically, if you like Wes Anderson you’ll love it. It’s as Wes Anderson as it gets without being a retread of his earlier work. But its leads characters are maybe a little more sympathetic to some than many of his previous ones (to many, Rushmore’s Max Fischer was kind of a douche) so maybe some of his non-fans (or haters) might like it a little more than his other films.
Final verdict: Another delightful movie from Wes Anderson. Smart, beautiful, quirky, funny and unpredictable: everything a great movie should be. The cast is great, the visuals are clever and memorable, the soundtrack is wonderful and overall it’s pretty much as good as it gets.