As the summer onslaught of big-budget, special effects movies begins; Director Wes Anderson releases a quirky, almost storybook tale of adolescent love in a bygone era. I sit through so many films that are just there, no creativity, no style, or substance that makes you feel like you're seeing something unique. Moonrise Kingdom is the cure for your cinematic doldrums. It's akin to a fresh breeze blowing the cobwebs out of the attic. I realize that Anderson's particularly whimsical approach to filmmaking may not be for everyone, but you're in for a good time if you accept his story at face value and enjoy the ride.
Moonrise Kingdom takes place on a remote island off the coast of New England in 1965. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) wakes up to find one of his Khaki Scouts, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), has run away or "resigned" from the camp. He contacts police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and along with the troop, they begin to search the island for Sam. On the other side of the island at their home, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), realize their troubled daughter Suzy (Kara Heyward), has also run away. They find a box of letters and paintings detailing a year-long relationship with Sam. The pair had planned their getaway for some time, absconding into the wild with Suzy's kitten. As the adults comb the island to find the runaways, a massive hurricane barrels its way towards them. Uncovering a few secrets and changing the lives of all involved forever.
The romance between Suzy and Sam may be the best relationship we see on film this year. The pair are true misfits. Sam's an orphan struggling to find a place in the world. Suzy, prone to fits of violence, knows she's a burden and trouble to those who love her. Together they embark on a journey that proves how well they actually fit together. Beyond their burgeoning sexuality and adolescent exploration, they talk to each other and find solace. One of my favorite lines in the film is a monologue where Suzy praises Sam for being an orphan and not having to deal with a family. Sam, coolly smoking his corncob pipe, looks her dead in the eye and says she doesn't have a damn clue what she's talking about. Suzy is dumbfounded, but grows up a bit in that moment. The honest repoire strengthens their bond and reinforces their 'us against the world' feelings. Teenagers are usually filmed as troubled, but rarely shown as being sophisticated and complex. Anderson's Suzy and Sam are unique in that regard.
Moonrise Kingdom has a tremendous ensemble cast. The film has a few of Wes Anderson's regulars, but the lead roles of Edward Norton and Bruce Willis are fantastic. It's been quite a while since I've enjoyed a Bruce Willis performance. His sad, but heroic portrayal of Captain Sharp is a welcome change. Likewise with Norton, whose Scout Master Ward steals the show with earnestness and genuine care for his troop. Wes Anderson and his co-writer, Roman Coppola, fashion their characters with deceptive intricacy. Ward, Sharp, and Sam are in their goofy uniforms the entire time. It's part of what makes them so funny, yet dramatically different. You have these characters running around that look conventional and one-note, but harbor distinct feelings that come out at key times in the plot. The whole ensemble is well staged and another nod to Anderson's cleverness as a filmmaker.
Anderson's visual style and deadpan delivery is either genius or ridiculous, depending on your taste. If you didn't like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, or Rushmore, then there's a good probability that you will not like Moonrise Kingdom. In fact, this may be Wes Anderson's most stylized film yet. Personally I think he's creative and brilliant. But I can understand why others might be bored. Art is subjective, and this is certainly an art film. While a film like The Avengers can have a mass appeal that everyone can love. Moonrise Kingdom has a singular vision and makes no attempt at all to please the masses. I can only imagine what focus groups said about this film.