Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis
Release Date: May 25th, 2012
Distributor: Focus Features
Running time: 94 minutes
Best part: The engaging performances.
Worst part: The irritable supporting characters.
Bravely holding up the peace sign in protest against modernity and establishment, Moonrise Kingdom could be seen as this generation’s Easy Rider. A big statement to make for sure, but its quirky tone and important discussion of free love and youth are held onto with a fond emotional resonance and artistic beauty.
Its 1965, America is a transitional state and its youth are easily impressionable to the evolving tapestries of temptation and rebellion. Violent and socially awkward Suzy (Kara Hayward) finds her soul mate with the equally strange and detested Sam (Jared Gilman). They run away from home to the island of New Penzance, isolated from the throes of a bland American life. The parents and local authorities are made aware of their indiscretions and become determined to keep them apart, but a physical and emotional escape from their confines has forever drawn them into the realm of forbidden desires. Along the way, our heroes run into several peculiar townsfolk and obstacles as their relationship reaches new peaks and troughs. In addition, with the town looking high and low for our cute couple, we look on as people from all different walks of life become bitten by the same bug that recently struck our two leads. Guided by Sam’s boy scout savvy, the forest-dwelling existences may just pull their friends and well-wishers out of their tedious existences.
Forbidden desires, love and loss bring this anti-American prophecy to life through the vision of acclaimed director Wes Anderson. Anderson, known for his niche fan base and strange dramedies such as The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, has created his most concentrated work yet with Moonrise Kingdom. Everything on-screen glows as every frame is a reminder of this acclaimed auteur and his peculiar vision in a modern filmmaking era. The Anderson tropes are all in full effect; precocious children, dysfunctional families, a 70’s aesthetic and uncomfortable themes provide just the tip of the knife, piercing the heart of any viewer taking in this touching and cheerful dramedy. Based in a storybook like setting, his messages are surely based on his childhood in an era of free love and inhibitions dancing in the wind. The film speaks to the modern and adult viewer about valuable contrasting issues. Society, family, age and politics are all questioned as the film breaks down more than just the fourth wall. Looking into the camera at characters off screen, tracking and panning across settings through limited angles, abstract imagery, spit screen dialogue sequences and cutesy geographical narration from Bob Balaban’s gnome-like character question the comfort, voyeurism and staged representations of modernity and order. Moonrise Kingdom is one of art house sensibility, constantly creating delicate cutesy moments out of the darker side of life.
“I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special.” (Suzy (Kara Hayward), Moonrise Kingdom).
The child characters are a part of us in one way or another. We go through their strange yet spiritually enlightening journey, knowing how and when their changing bodies and personalities will soon affect each other. First experiences, with concerning issues such as sex and violence, may catastrophically destroy their innocence. We witness however the pair shuffling through the bases, in the hope they find their own slice of Valhalla in an era of war and hatred. The adult characters sadly add little more than thematic representations and roadblocks to this hippie-era love story. With the boy scouts representing the army at the height of the Vietnam War, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel as scout leaders are suitably charming yet lack moral depth. The film is delightfully based on children learning by doing, displaying not that parents are wrong for their treatment of children, but should give them a chance to grow by themselves. Despite both child character’s anti-social and even masochistic tendencies, including piercing ears with fish hooks and brutally attacking boy scouts, delectable performances from Hayward and Gilman illustrate the joys of living discovered through adventure.
Moonrise Kingdom, marking Anderson’s spectacular return to form, is a rich, hearty dramedy with something to say. Talking about life, love, and inhibition, the movie comes from a significant place close to Anderson’s heart.