Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating here: it must be kind of great to be Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom is a film with a cast list so deep that no less a luminary than Harvey Keitel doesn’t even appear on the cover of the DVD case. Anderson can evidently just call people up and ask them to appear in his films and they evidently show up to do it. Anderson is definitely an acquired taste, but it’s a taste I’ve managed to acquire without much trouble. I often need some time between Anderson films because of how astonishingly quirky they are. In this case, though, I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel enough that I figured I was in the mood for more of him.
Like a lot of Wes Anderson movies, I’m not exactly sure where I should or even can start with discussing this film. At its heart, it’s the story of two kids, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) who have fallen in love with each other. As could only happen in Anderson’s world, Sam and Suzy have something more substantial than just puppy love. They are united by their outcast status. Sam is a recent orphan and basically friendless. Suzy acts out frequently getting violent. The two meet the summer they are 11 and become pen pals, deciding to run away together the next summer when Sam returns to New Penzance Island for his annual summer as a Khaki Scout, the Wes Anderson version of the Boy Scouts.
Of course, since this is Wes Anderson, there will be plenty of strange characters leading us through the story. These include the New Penzance police captain Duffy Sharp (Bruce Willis) who is a little mentally slow but has a good heart; Khaki Scout master Randy Ward (Edward Norton); Suzy’s lawyer parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), who call each other “counsellor”; and Ben, (Jason Schwartzman), the cousin of one of the Khaki Scouts. Ben runs the quartermaster tent for a larger Khaki Scout camp, and is every bit the stereotype of a military quartermaster. It’s worth noting as well that Laura Bishop and Captain Sharp are having an affair, and this is a poorly kept secret. All of this is occasionally narrated by Bob Balaban, who evidently lives on one or several of the relevant New England islands where the story takes place.
As one would expect with Wes Anderson, all of the characters are particularly anal retentive and mainly emotionless. Even in situations of great stress, they simply become more intensified versions of themselves. To add to the drama of two kids running away, everything takes place just before and during a massive hurricane that hits the island just as Sam and Suzy run away for a second time, this time with the help of Sam’s Khaki Scout troop. This final pursuit comes with the additional problem of Social Services (Tilda Swinton), arriving to take Sam into custody since his current foster family has decided not to accept him back after the summer.
I’ll just make this blunt. I found Moonrise Kingdom absolutely charming. It’s the fifth Wes Anderson film I’ve seen and the fourth I’ve really enjoyed. There are moments when Anderson feels like he’s walking over the same ground he’s walked before; Frances McDormand really seems to be doing an impression of Anjelica Huston from The Royal Tenenbaums, for instance. But I don’t really care that much that I feel like I’ve seen some of these characters before in whole or in part. The story itself is what makes this film work as well as it does.
There are a few things I can’t determine about this film, though. The first is the acting talents of young Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. The two of them are either terrible actors made to look brilliant by Anderson’s archly weird style or they are two of the most talented young people in front of a camera in years. Regardless of which of these possibilities is true, they are perfect in this film, including Sam’s sometimes mush-mouthed and rushed delivery of lines. He comes across as odd (he’s supposed to, of course—this is a Wes Anderson film), but he also talks how a lot of kids talk. I’ll have to see both of them in something else to figure out if they are both simply naïve and got lucky or have real talent.
The other thing I can’t figure out is if Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film for people who don’t like Wes Anderson or the sort of film that people who don’t like Wes Anderson will hate even more than his usual fare. In some ways, it’s the quintessential film of his oeuvre, but it’s also radically different in ways as well. It will absolutely please Anderson fans across the board, but I think it may be his most divisive film opinion-wise for those who aren’t a fan of what he does.
I liked it a lot, though. Much like The Grand Budapest Hotel, I feel like I could watch this again immediately. That’s either due to the strength of this film or the fact that I’m just getting more and more used to Wes Anderson as a director and screenwriter.
Why to watch Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson at his weird best.
Why not to watch: If you don’t like Wes Anderson, you may like this one more, but you still might not like it much.