MOONRISE KINGDOM Review

In many ways Wes Anderson is a director very cautious not to wander outside his comfort zone. He has carved out a pleasant little niche for himself and has remained there for several years only venturing out slightly with his last effort The Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009. Since that release and even in parts of that film it felt like Mr. Anderson has been running low on steam. That might explain the three-year hiatus from behind the camera, but in his absence it seems the writer/director has been working on something rather special. I have always been a fan of Anderson's dry humor and intimate portraits of odd yet perfectly flawed characters. Here he puts these two personal touches to great use as Moonrise Kingdom finds a way to make those most human elements of humor translate flawlessly from our world around us to his golden saturated world. These little moments add up to something that ultimately feels like one of the most epic of love stories. Anderson has rounded up a couple of his frequent collaborators as well as some new friends to tell a story that at first glance is a simple story of boy meets girl. What the film ends up being is a concise and intricately made film that documents the personal journey of love in all its different forms and stages. There is a theme behind his khaki tones and direct dialogue and it is something he has explored many times before, but it seems every time Anderson is able to elicit a fantastic response because he has such beautiful ways of saying it differently.

Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) plot
their escape route in Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom tells the innocent tale of an isolated oldest child and an abandoned boy scout who find comfort in one another's arms. The story first introduces us to Suzy as played by wonderful newcomer Kara Hayward. Suzy is the oldest of four children with her three younger brothers forming a kind of isolated group that excludes their bookworm, troubled sister. It is clear Suzy has trouble adapting to kids her age and so when Sam (Jared Gilman) stumbles upon her at a church play and becomes immediately infatuated with her, she finds him interesting. Sam is introduced to us without us actually seeing him and in doing this it gives us the biggest inclination of who he is. He is a mischief maker, but not of the intentional breaking-the-rules nature, more because he is a free thinker. The boy is a total independent and he has no problem taking the world in and doing with it how he sees fit. Anderson along with collaborator Roman Coppola write these young characters with such reality and honesty it is completely believable that these two kindred spirits could come together and understand one another on a level that would make them want to run  away with each other. It works to the utmost and we buy into it and believe it. They are fleshed out by the cast Anderson has surrounded them with but not because of the characters they are playing but more for the roles they play, the influence they have upon our two main characters. Isolated on a little New England island Suzy's lawyer parents Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are disconnected from their kids communicating with them through bullhorn and only calling on them when necessary. Sam has lost his parents and relies on Scout Master Ward (a hilarious Edward Norton) to serve as a kind of parental figure. This role shifts between he and the local police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) as the story evolves. Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban show up from time to time as well and infuse great moments of that signature Anderson dry wit.

From Left: Walt (Bill Murray), Laura (Frances McDormand),
Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) and Captain Sharp
(Bruce Willis).
While all of this ultimately makes up for a surprisingly thrilling adventure story it is the small details, the extra tid bits, or simply the care that seems to have been taken in telling this story that really stands out. Whether they be about the bubble of a world in which the movie takes place or the specifics of the time period everything about this production seems to have been touched with the same bit of care that Sam has taken to make sure everything about he and Suzy's escape works. While the plan for Sam and Suzy's love story doesn't exactly go the way they likely planned it, the film hits the strides of its story with perfect measure. I loved the opening scene where Anderson introduces us to the Bishops with a series of camera movements set to the music of a young person's guide to the orchestra. There is not a word of dialogue spoken, yet in mere minutes we fully comprehend what kind of person Suzy is and even more important, why she has become that way. I adored the complex relationships that were taken on by Coppola and Anderson in the script that were each given a respective angle while still allowing the overall flowery feel of the production to never succumb to some of the more weighty issues being explored. That is the magic trick of Moonrise Kingdom, it is the clever manipulator you don't realize you've experienced until days later when you still can't get the effect of the story out of your mind. That this quirky little indie film that at first glance seems so innocent doesn't only tell the cute, humble story of two kids in love but instead explores an emotion that will forever be up for interpretation. The sadness of Captain Sharp's realizations and the tragedy of the what the Bishops have become. The longing, yet ultimately fulfilling quest of Scout Master Ward. To each is their own meditation on the subject and with an optimistic outlook Anderson brings us back to our main characters that reassure each of the adults where that feeling of love originates from.

Coousin Ben (Jason Schwartzmen) lead the runaways
to safety in their quest for true love.
Anderson  has always had his signature style to rely on and he still milks that quirky tone mixed with his painting-esque visuals to tell a poignant story of flawed characters here. Maybe it is the fact he has been away for longer than usual (he really hasn't, it just feels that way because his last film was animated despite being undoubtedly Anderson) that I embrace his latest with a warmer sense of eager excitement. Maybe because this was the slowest expansion of a well reviewed indie I've ever had to experience and the anticipation has just trumped my judgement a little bit, regardless Moonrise Kingdom is a wonder to behold. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the film and at a mere 90-minute run time it is impressive to go on such a detailed quest that brisks by at a pace that doesn't also drag you down into the sorrow and pain some of the characters feel for good amounts of that time. Much of this relayed feeling to the audience can be accredited to the wonderful performances that populate the film. Whether it be Bruce Willis who diverges from his beaten path and fills a role in Anderson's world with such gusto or another newcomer like Ed Norton who completely embraces the nerdiness of his character that he ends up wearing it like a cool style. Murray is in classic form with only a limited number of scenes and McDormand is grand in her small but necessary role as Suzy's emotionally crippled mother. As for the two leads who embrace their first film roles with as sweet and innocent a nature as their characters love for another, it is lovely to experience. It is fresh, and real and elevates this to what will certainly be one of the best films of the year.