It seems that Wes Anderson has been practicing with every movie he makes to one day deliver a masterpiece. That day may never come, but it doesn’t matter. Each of his films, so far, have been a hell of an exercise towards that goal. And as a spectator, I've been enjoying the ride. Moonrise Kingdom may not be very different from your typical Wes Anderson film; after all, it is still part of these exercise. But then again- aside from centered frames and dry humor- what is a typical Wes Anderson film?
Consider the film's opening, which is told against an educational breakdown of the variations and instruments on a theme by Purcell. Anderson is bluntly telling the audience he will be playing by his own rules- as he usually does. And like the educational soundtrack the film is broken down, and each element is introduced separately before it all comes together in a litteral cliffhanger.
First there is the setting: Moonrise Kingdom is set on an island off the coast of New England in 1965. But never mind where or when this is set. It could be anywhere, anytime. The important part is that we are made aware a hurricane will hit the island in three days time. An excellent backdrop!
Then we meet the heroine: Suzy (Kara Hayward), who lives with her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) in the lighthouse. She spends her time looking out the window with her binoculars, distant but observant. And the hero: Sam (Jared Gilman), who spends his summers on the island at a Khaki Scout Camp presided by Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton). Both the lighthouse and the camp are prisons in the eyes of Suzy and Sam.
Sam and Suzy are in love. So they plan their escape, together.
Their plan doesn’t seem to be fully fleshed out. Sam has packed all the survival gear he “borrowed” from camp, but Suzy only packed a suitcase of books and brought along her kitten. Also they don’t seem to know how they’ll get off the island. But it doesn’t matter- at least not to them- because they are in love.
Despite what the adults might think, their love is innocent. It is that type of puppy-love that would make someone runaway from home, spear a boy-scout with a swiss-knife, and jump off a bell tower for. Suzy and Sam also seem to be oddly aware that next year they might be too old for such shenanigans; this might even be their last summer together. Ultimately, they find a paradisiac cove which they name Moonrise Kingdom. It is a beautiful little cove, the perfect getaway in which to declare your love to that special someone.
Meanwhile, the adult world searches for the runaways while the hurricane approaches. If it weren’t for the fact that Sam and Suzy are thirteen-or-so and that this film is spoken in the usual dead-pan of an Anderson film, it would be some sort of cheap drama. But no matter how unlikely the events are, the character so the story believe them to be true. So it works; nothing is played for laughs, and yet I was smiling from the begging to the end of the film.
Wait! I just got it! The looming hurricane is a metaphor for the situation Sam and Suzy are in; it is the storm that is adolescence is right around the corner. Clever... Mr Anderson.
In addition to Wes Anderson’s usual signatures there are also a lot of new experiments within his style. Building up from his experience in animation through Fantastic Mr Fox, the characters in Moonrise Kingdom move and flow within their environment as if animated inside a miniature set. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, besides Fantastic Mr Fox, which was animated. And then there is the talent of Edward Norton, who looks childish in khaki shorts, gives a performance very much unlike anything he’s done before. And Bruce Willis as Capt. Sharp. Capt. Sharp is a regular Bruce Willis character, the average joe who rises to the occasion, that somehow stumbled onto a Wes Anderson set.
The oddest thing of all is that I’ve just spent quite a bit describing the film, and still don't feel that I am doing it any justice. Moonrise Kingdom will appeal to those who will go watch it anyways. Personally, I loved it. So all I can say is that I highly recommend you give it a go.