- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Focus Features
Reviewed by Bob Westal
lthough "Moonrise Kingdom" is the first to make a point of being set in the past, all of Wes Anderson's films are, in a way, period pieces. Some writers may call him playfully post-modern, but it's equally true to think of him as defiantly old fashioned. He delights in overtly literary dialogue, his characters are as courtly and eccentric as those in any 1930s screwball farce, and there is little trace of the 21st century in any Anderson production. No wonder I'm a fan.
An ensemble film to its very bones, "Moonrise Kingdom" nevertheless focuses mainly on two remarkable, and remarkably messed up, young people who are just a little bit ahead of their time, which happens to be 1965. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan and highly accomplished member of the Khaki Scouts – presumably the Boy Scouts of America wouldn't have him – but he's also every inch a 12-year-old rebel without a cause. Playing Natalie Wood to his very precocious James Dean is a noir femme fatale in training, Suzy (Kara Hayward). Before long, the two have fallen for each other and run off together for what amounts to a nerdy camping trip in which not all the sexuality is fully sublimated.
The youngsters' disappearance sets off a chain of less than brilliant (and often inappropriate) behavior from a number of even more messed up adults. These include a zealous, constantly smoking scout master (Edward Norton); a depressed local constable (Bruce Willis); the girl's understandably worried mother (Frances McDormand); and her rightfully suspicious husband (Bill Murray). It gets worse because, as we are informed by gnomish narrator Bob Balaban, the picturesque New England island where all of this is happening is about to be hit by a storm of historic proportions.
If you've been following the Anderson oeuvre, there is much that's very familiar in "Moonrise Kingdom." From a series of very arch tracking shots which introduce such key locations as Suzy's home and Sam's scout camp, to Suzy's too mature for her age eyeshadow, the quirk might be laid on a bit thick. At the same time, the Andersonian humor is also laid on pretty thick in a good way, and most of it comes at the expense of the adults.
One of the central tenets of Anderson's films is that grown-ups are scarcely any more mature than the children they are supposed to be caring for. Between Frances McDormand's unfaithful but attentive mom, Edward Norton's well-intentioned but perhaps excessively devoted scout master, and Tilda Swinton as a cartoonishly coldhearted government representative known only as "Social Services," the chances of anyone growing into a fully mature adult in the Andersonverse seems pretty remote. A scene where Bruce Willis's gruff, emotionally stunted cop offers young Sam a swig or two of beer poured into a milk glass is presented as perhaps the most sensible approach to parenting we're likely to see.
In a film full of highly amusing performances, Edward Norton is a particular scene stealer. For once appearing in a production he hasn't personally rewritten, the ex-Hulk delivers a low key but extremely funny and sympathetic performance that avoids all the usual clichés and reminds us why he became a star in the first place.
I'm not necessarily ready to declare either of them budding legends, but young Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman do a very good job of anchoring the film. Gilman is especially memorable as a character who’s essentially a less articulate Max Fisher of "Rushmore," if a bit suaver around the female of the species.
Say what you will about director Anderson, an expert wrangler of some of the world’s biggest egos as well as child acting unknowns, a misanthrope he is not. Here, he clearly at least wants to be something of a romantic, even if emotions in his films always seem to come out in amusingly contorted form.
Which brings us to an artfully nervy love scene. Though it's played partially for laughs and kept within PG-13 bounds, "Moonrise Kingdom" is a bit more honest than likeminded films about what might happen between a couple of smitten, emancipated kids who are probably fairly well-prepared for the sexual revolution coming their way. Parents taking their own tweens or young teens to the film should be prepared for some potentially squirmy moments. The kids, however, are more likely to be disturbed by the bloody fate of a Jack Russell terrier. "Was he a good dog?" Suzy asks Sam. "Who's to say?" answers Sam knowingly.
Wes Anderson is a master of details and those are, as usual, at least half the fun, as cinematographer Robert Yeoman and production designer Adam Stockhausen are once again to be heartily congratulated. Composer Alexandre Desplat also gets into the act, especially with a clever end credits homage to Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra." (The Britten piece opens the film.)
If "Moonrise Kingdom" fails at all, it's definitely not in the details, but on the big picture side of things. It means to tug at our heartstrings as much as it delights our eyeballs and funny bone, but that doesn't happen. Still, like its young heroes, it's making a sincere effort to do something important with itself, and its sins, such as they are, are completely forgivable.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The film may have been a hit both critically and commercially, but Universal apparently didn't see fit to produce any worthwhile bonus material. There's the usual EPK fluff piece ("A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom"), a "set tour" with Bill Murray, and a series of short behind-the-scenes featurettes on the cast and crew ("Welcome to the Island of New Penzance"), but they run a combined 12 minutes. The digital copy is the best extra.