“Moonrise Kingdom” – Review by Daniel Rester

Moonrise Kingdom Review

by Daniel Rester

Ever since the 1996 film Bottle Rocket, Wes Anderson has distinguished himself as a meticulous and idiosyncratic filmmaker. His low-key and unique approach to material has both gained him a large following and turned many viewers off. It is undeniable that Anderson is a true craftsman, but it will depend on which of those groups that you fall in in order to determine whether you will enjoy his latest creation, Moonrise Kingdom.

Kingdom finds Anderson in the “youthful love story” territory. The film takes place on a New England island in the summer of 1965 and follows the growing relationship of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). Sam is an orphan attending a “Khaki Scout” camp, while Suzy is the eccentric child of her large family living on the island. Both are twelve-year-olds who met in church the previous summer and decided to write to each other as pen pals.

Sam and Suzy then decide to run away together and fall in love, with a beautiful cove being their ultimate destination. Their departure sends out a panic on the island and causes many people to search for them, including Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and Social Services (Tilda Swinton). In the middle of all of this is a storm brewing in the horizon, which will ravage the island in just a few days’ time.

Many films have had a very similar story to tell, but through the lens of Anderson it is different. He often sidesteps conventions and populates his story with unusual characters (with defining costumes) and fantastic locations. His choices in color also add richness to the viewing, never tending toward flashiness but always providing freshness – with Anderson having special interest in browns, greens, and yellows. The music by Alexandre Desplat and cinematography by Robert Yeoman beautifully compliment Anderson’s overall vision and feel as well.

The cast in Kingdom couldn’t be better, with everyone finding their inner Anderson oddball. Murray returns to his usual, perfect deadpan acting style when starring in an Anderson film; the scenes with him are often some of the film’s funniest. Equally as good are McDormand and Swinton, making for strong female supporting players. But the real standouts in the supporting cast are Norton and Willis, who terrifically play against their usual macho types and steal every scene they are in. Also popping up in small parts are Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban (as the quirky narrator), all providing great charm in what little screen time they have.

At the end of the day, though, it is Gilman and Hayward’s performances as the youngsters that really hold the film together. The two are newcomers, yet they have the skill and range of professionals. Their chemistry together remarkably makes them one of the more memorable screen couples in recent cinematic history, and it is worth looking forward to where these young actors go next.

Another major allure of Kingdom is its dialogue, along with the other before-mentioned script qualities such as the characters and story turns. Anderson and cowriter Roman Coppola’s writing is atypical and flavorful in every way, with the actors often purposely delivering the dialogue in stagy ways. Some may dismiss the script as being too strange, but others will find it brilliant, warmhearted, and Oscar-worthy. I am on the latter side.

It is likely that many will cherish Kingdom and regard it as one of Anderson’s best. That is not to say that it will be for everyone’s taste. However, I think the film is certainly one of Anderson’s more accessible and fully realized pieces of work — with lots of heart and craft put into it. I also believe it is one of the decade’s best so far.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.  

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