Moonrise Kingdom Review
by Delon Villanueva
Summer of 2012 has been defined at as the biggest superhero movie season yet, while also having plenty of other 3D sequels and reboots, but as usual, the independent films are being overlooked. Although this is usually the case, this summer seems to have many potential indie classics. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is already a sleeper hit domestically, Safety Not Guaranteed has been progressively picking up buzz, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the most lauded films at Cannes this year, has yet to be theatrically released this summer. Though one of the most talked about indie films of the summer – or in fact, the year, is the directorial return of Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson’s last movie was Fantastic Mr. Fox, an animated stop-motion film based off the children’s book by Roald Dahl, back in 2009, and as great as that movie was, fans were still waiting on his next live-action feature. When the trailer was released for Moonrise Kingdom, film geeks were ecstatic about Anderson being back again, with even more than they bargained for. The trailer showed that Anderson has kept his iconic style, while revealing some interesting casting, including Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. It’s been five years since his last live-action film, so seeing all this was very promising. Did the final product live up to those promises? Yes, and more. Moonrise Kingdom is easily one of the best movies of the year.
Moonrise Kingdom is, in simplest terms, a story about a young boy and girl who fall in love. Taking place in New England, 1965, the boy, Sam Shakusky, played by Jared Gilman, is a “Khaki Scout” who runs away from his summer camp to meet with a girl. This girl is Suzy Bishop, played by Kara Hayward, who also runs away from home, where her relationship with her parents is not on good terms. Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton) and the local police officer (Bruce Willis) go off on a wild goose chase to find these two kids, and also joining them are Suzy’s parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. That’s all I will say about the story, as I want to go right into how fantastic this cast is. Who would have thought John McClane and the Hulk could fit perfectly in a Wes Anderson movie? Norton is very funny as the awkward scout master and Willis plays up subtlety in his aggressiveness very well as Captain Sharp. Anderson regular Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are also great as the frightened parents of Suzy, but they can’t outshine the movie’s two protagonists. Although it’s clear at many times in this movie that these two are new to acting, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward have a lot of sincerity in their performances. Their relationship actually feels genuine rather than dolled-up in Hollywood fashion. Even under the quietness of Wes Anderson’s direction, you can sense the powerful emotion. Sometimes the line delivery is stilted, but it adds to their youthful charm. Also in this movie are some brief but enjoyable performances by Tilda Swinton as a Social Services officer, and Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben, another camp counselor. From the big names to all the “Khaki Scout” kid actors, this movie has formed a great cast.
I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned how beautiful this movie is yet. Yes, being a Wes Anderson movie, you would expect it to be a pretty picture, but saying it’s just pretty is an understatement. The vintage and grainy look is amazing here, and it doesn’t feel like it’s style over story. By doing this, Wes Anderson is able to portray the whimsy and innocence of young love. There’s something about your first crush in how it’s not nearly as obnoxious or overdramatic as an adult relationship. Anderson contrasts the bonding of Sam and Suzy to the restlessness of the adults in this film. In fact, they make it clear that these kids are more mature than the adults. It’s a coming-of-age story with a hipster twist to it, yet it does the genre better than most movies today. It really is a huge result of the writing (also co-written by Roman Coppola) and directing of Wes Anderson. Anderson never feels like he needs to dumb it down for the audience in his movies, and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception. His famous one-take transition shots are still seen often throughout this movie, and the dialogue is quirky as ever. Even though he reuses film techniques, the storytelling feels unique and refreshing, as every directing decision in this movie is a bold move.
The only problems I really had are some of the main kids’ line readings, as I mentioned earlier, and a few silent moments that never build up to anything, but other than that, this movie comes with an immensely high recommendation. Now be warned: this movie is still one that alienates itself from mainstream audiences, unfortunately. If you don’t like Wes Anderson’s style for some reason, then why bother? Though I think even the biggest Transformers or Twilight fan can find something to love about this movie with some patience. Unlike those two movies I just mentioned, there is a real story to tell here that invests you in their characters instantly, if you are willing and not so stubborn about it. It’s still a very strange movie, as are the rest of Wes Anderson’s films, but at its core, it’s more realistic than most movies that have come out this year so far. So, for those looking for a break from all the summer movie explosions, Moonrise Kingdom is the perfect choice. Expect it to be on my top ten best list of the year.