Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Once again Wes Anderson invites us into one of his fantastic worlds, his seventh feature in a 16-year career: Moonrise Kingdom. The film fits perfectly into his oeuvre; featuring all of the familiar attributes we’ve come to expect—a stunning ensemble cast, an eclectic soundtrack, a dollhouse-like set, and a compelling storyline with at least one kind of dysfunctional family. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) play adolescent lovers who run away together, braving the wilderness in hopes of finding a place where they can be themselves, however troubled that may be. That place is Moonrise Kingdom.

The film takes place on a remote New England island, only accessible by the daily mail plane, in the year 1965. Suzy lives with her parents, loveless lawyers played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, and three younger brothers. However troubled her school life is (she has a reputation for going ‘berserk’), her home life becomes even more so when she discovers a copy of the book “Coping with the Very Troubled Child” on top of the refrigerator. Sam is a problematic orphan, disliked by his peers and unwanted by his foster family, who escapes Camp Ivanhoe under the nose of the questionably competent Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton)–“Jiminy Cricket! He flew the coop!” he exclaims. The Bishops join him and the town sheriff (Bruce Willis) in a search party.

Visually, the picture is whimsical and wondrous. Suzy’s world is made up of pastel pinks and oranges while Sam’s is a combination of boy-scout-brown and the greens of the island’s forestry. Anderson continues to employ meticulous and highly stylized camera methods including long shots and split screens. Particular props felt like nods to some of Anderson’s previous works—the animal costumes and woodland-themed painted canoes are reminiscent of Anderson’s days with a fox, Sam and Suzy’s Francoise Hardy dance party felt like a happier alternative to the Tenenbaum’s tent scene (Suzy is very much like a pre-teen Margot), and the stationery is akin to that of Rushmore’s Max Fischer. Still, underneath all of that technique is Moonrise Kingdom’s fluttering heart beat.

In the star-studded cast, which includes longtime fixture Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben and Tilda Swinton as a character simply called Social Services, each actor flawlessly performs their respective role and their character’s small acts have big effects both on screen and off. Murray and McDormand manage to uncover the deepest issues of a floundering marriage in one small bedroom scene: lying awake in separate beds, Suzy’s mother apologizes to her husband. “Which injuries are you apologizing for, specifically?” he asks, “Specifically, whichever ones still hurt,” she replies.

In the relationship between Sam and Suzy, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppolla earnestly attempt to recall the feelings of first love. While a romance between two precocious pre-pubescent runaways could have easily come off as saccharine and cheap, the writers manage to avoid the typical clichés. The fact that Suzy considers stolen library books and a kitten as necessary requirements for her survival, and that Sam doesn’t even question it, keeps the two childlike, but their level of seriousness and genuine belief in their love (and later, their willingness to die for it) give us no choice but to validate them. Moonrise Kingdom is a breath of fresh air in a world of multi-million dollar action films and bio-pics, and Wes Anderson is undoubtedly one of today’s finest filmmakers.

About author
Kelli Nastasi is an American writer and photographer living in Paris, France. She likes dogs, space, and Mary J. Blige.

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