“Moonrise Kingdom” genuine, heartfelt
July 12th 2012 · 0 Comments
Director Wes Anderson has been making films for two decades now, since the short “Bottle Rocket,” co-written with actor Owen Wilson in 1992 (and turned four years later into a feature-length production with the same title). Over the course of eight features and a pair of short films, he has returned time and again to his favorite themes (though certainly relatable and enduring ones): dysfunctional families and their brilliant, misfit children.
Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), the protagonist of 1998’s “Rushmore,” is a highly intelligent young man who falls in love with an adult teacher at his school. Anderson’s critically-acclaimed followup, “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), presented an exceptionally vivid dysfunctional family with a trio of stunted adult children, each afflicted by unmanageable genius. More recently, travelogue “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) featured three estranged brothers reconnecting on a train trip through India, and even the sprawling animated children’s feature “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009, based on the book by Roald Dahl) managed to capture some of Anderson’s pet subject matter.
Anderson’s latest film, “Moonrise Kingdom” offers perhaps the most fully-realized iteration of his unique cinematic ethos. It manages to capture a dysfunctional family, demonstrate how that dysfunction affects its most introspective child, and adroitly encapsulate the overwhelming desperation of young love. Though presumably satisfying for the director and adored by critics, “Moonrise Kingdom” is not a flawless film, and its extreme quirkiness might leave some viewers in the cold.
We open in 1965 with the Bishop family, living on the fictional New Penzance Island. Shots of their home and its inhabitants are carefully framed, evoking the feeling of peering into a dollhouse. We are introduced to 12-year-old Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a distant, dreamy child with a penchant for girly fantasy novels. Next, we meet Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) and his Khaki Scout summer camp, from which 12-year-old orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has just absconded, along with a supply-packed canoe.
As the search for Sam begins, we see Suzy sneak out of her house. A flashback reveals that Sam and Suzy met the previous year during a church-house dramatization of the story of Noah’s Flood, fell instantly in love, and have concocted their plan to run away via secret correspondence.
Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) join the search along with Ward and island police chief Sharp (Bruce Willis). Meanwhile, Sam employs his scout training to find a secluded cove where he and Suzy set up a camp and start their life together. They scratch out their own little piece of earth and name it Moonrise Kingdom, in deference to the fantastical places from Suzy’s favorite books.
Soon, however, the other scouts track them down, and the young lovers are forcibly separated by Suzy’s parents. Social Services (Tilda Swinton) steps in and raises the specter of a life of juvenile prison and shock therapy for Sam, and only the suddenly loyal scouts and a few compassionate adults can save the day.
The film oozes charm, and this is due, in large part, to the impressive performances by young newcomers Hayward and Gilman. Suzy is taller than Sam (as is often true at that age), and has a certain moody glamour (and the troubled childhood to back it up) that makes Sam’s interest in her perfectly credible. For his part, Sam’s breathy, mumble-heavy voice, oversized glasses, and precocious intelligence make him eminently endearing. The two young actors manage to encompass the vim, pathos, and shortsighted desperation of two young people each clinging to the only person they have found who tries to understand them. It is a jaded soul indeed that won’t be rooting for Sam and Suzy to make it.
The film isn’t without flaws, however. There is perhaps too much emphasis on twee production design, and some of the painstakingly-composed cinematography may leave viewers preoccupied with the winking artificiality of the sets and costumes. The third act, in particular, strays into fairy-tale territory (for example, a cartoony flood and a survived lightning-strike) while simultaneously focusing the story too heavily on the adults, and occasionally losing Sam and Suzy in the process.
Still, there is a genuine, heartfelt sweetness here for those who are willing to oblige it. The stakes may not seem particularly high, but anyone who can remember what it was like to care so rashly and passionately about something will find “Moonrise Kingdom” compelling. Cynics need not apply.
By Mark Ziobro