Moonrise Kingdom


Anderson’s Island

Main Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Edward Norton

Director: Wes Anderson

I can honestly say that I am not a Wes Anderson fan.  I know, that makes me an outcast in some circles, but I just don’t really dig his style.  Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums were okay, but I thought Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was a tragic waste of Bill Murray (a capital offense in my world) and The Darjeeling Limited was just a tragic mess.   So I could not have been more surprised when Anderson’s 2012 offering – Moonrise Kingdom – not only left out Owen Wilson (hurrah!) but also turned out to be sweet and funny and even a little poignant.  Go figure.

Moonrise Kingdom is the story of a boy and a girl, both approximately 12 years of age and living in the year 1965, on an island, somewhere that looks like the East Coast.  The boy is Sam (Jared Gilman) and the girl is Suzy (Kara Hayward).  Sam is an outcast at his scout camp and Suzy is considered by her parents (the fabulous Frances McDormand and the not-wasted Bill Murray) to be a very troubled child.  The two met the summer before the events in the film and formed a bond through letters in the interceding year.  In light of their friendship and their shared outcast status, the two decide to run away together.  Not the most brilliant plan in the world, or the most original, but these are some quirky kids – they make their adventure count.

Meanwhile, the camp is in an uproar (it doesn’t look good to lose a camper) and Suzy’s parents are apoplectic.  Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) is on the scene (and is not unfamiliar with Suzy’s mother) and Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) is taking serious measures with his campers to locate the missing scout.  The entire affair has a delicious sense of complete absurdity that gives its more tender moments more resonance.  We learn a little bit about why these kids are considered “weird”, watch them connect through that shared stigma and see how the small island community on which all the action takes place gets caught up in a (literal) whirlwind of cause and effect and actions and consequences as the kids play out their fantasy.  In little bits and pieces throughout we have Bob Balaban as some sort of elf or gnome or something helping us along with a little foreshadowing of events to come.

It seems like an awful lot for a simple story of two kids who decide to run away but don’t really have anywhere to go.   And it is a lot.  But without the hijinks, complications, adult relationships and permutations, weather complications and general shenanigans it would be just that – a simple story without much to offer that’s out of the ordinary.  Like him or not, Wes Anderson is definitely not a purveyor of the ordinary.  He pulls together some big names into relatively small roles and lets them shine behind the lead of Sam and Suzy, for they are the stars here.  Young actors Gilman and Hayward more than hold their own with their experienced and talented fellow performers and it’s their chemistry that drives the story.  We end up liking this oddball pair, despite the fact that Anderson has made them very odd, indeed.  The adult cast is fabulous, wacky and seemingly having a blast with their goofball roles.  Only Murray is an Anderson regular – Jason Schwartzman appears, but in a very limited role.  Maybe that’s why the movie is so much better than usual.  Norton, McDormand and Willis, along with Balaban and the always nifty Tilda Swinton, play along with the craziness, each wrapping themselves into their wacky roles and going for broke.

My favorite part of Moonrise Kingdom is the feeling it has of a magical period piece.  The locale is isolated enough for the well-known mores of 1965 to be present, but with all sorts of strange little twists (like Suzy’s brother and his obsessive listening to a record that breaks down a symphony orchestra) that help you feel like this isn’t a regular place or a regular time but someplace where the events we see might actually happen.  It’s all great fun.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom.  I’m still stunned that it came from Wes Anderson, but perhaps for that I like it even a little bit more.  I have no idea how his stalwart fans see this movie – as the best of him or as a betrayal of his signature suckitude, but I highly recommend it to everyone else.  4 ½ stars out of 5.

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