How do you review a movie created by Wes Anderson? I ran into this problem a couple years back after seeing The Fantastic Mr. Fox . How can I talk about a film that reaches astounding levels of emotional depth and directorial mastery while at the same time employing quirks and strange oddities that have no place in a sane movie? It is films like this that let me know I will never be a true “critic”, because there is just a point in these sorts of movies that I reach where my mind screams out, “I just don’t get it. And I probably never will.”
Moonrise Kingdom is a love story. It’s a coming of an age story. It’s a story of reconciliation. Of marraige. Of suicide. Of becoming a man. With so many characters, it can’t just be one tale of one or two people. Famous actors and actresses like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Jason Schwartzman, and Frances McDormand sit above a bevy of budding child actors and act as backdrops for the love story between young Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Sam is a lonely orphan, disliked by literally everyone, especially his foster home parents and his khaki scout co-troopers whom he is stuck with on the small New England island of New Penzance. But despite being ridiculed by everyone, he is surprisingly smart, confident, and survival savvy. Suzy lives on New Penzance with her parents and three brothers. She is also lonely and very perturbed when she discovers her adulterous mom has a book entitled “Coping with a Troubled Child.” She and Sam started as pen pals after meeting at a church play. They decide to run away together and live by themselves forever on the island. This of course leads to various adults of the island, the sheriff (Willis), Suzy’s parents (Murray and McDormand), and the khaki scout leader and his troops (Norton) going on an island wide manhunt to find them.
That is the ultimate story, Suzy and Sam finding solace in each other while the world spins around them. Seeking to get away from their broken relationships to build a new one. Honest to God, it’s pretty cute. Sam’s self assuredness with the things he knows and the things he doesn’t is the perfect foil to Suzy’s tag along but strong willed character. And the fact that Sam smokes a pipe while Suzy reads to him is fantastic.
But like any Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom is weird. All of his movies are weird. They’re very quirky in ways that would put a contemporary audience in an off mood. And that is why I say that I will never get it. Because don’t get me wrong, Moonrise Kingdom is a film school nerd’s wet dream. It’s a critics wet dream, and I guarantee one or two oscar nominations for writing and cinematography at the very least. But it’s just a little too indie.
The film is wonderfully shot and the dialogue is mmm mmm delicious. I have two favorite parts, one when Sam tells Suzy, “I love you, but you have no idea what you are talking about.” And when McDormand tells Murray that they have to stay together because they are all their kids have. Murray replies, “That’s not enough.” I gasped. It was so good. You have to see it to feel the power in such subtle scenes.
And Wes Anderson is the king of subtle performances. And I believe he draws out the best of them in here. So, Moonrise Kingdom is beautiful, full of wonderful writing and has terrific actors who never steal the show from one another. Except maybe Bill Murray because he is always hilarious. But the film is just a little weird for a guy like me. It’s hard to chew on. And I believe it is about a half hour too long, dragging on with the introduction of even more characters. But it is by and far my favorite Wes Anderson movie (I’ve only seen a few though.) Any student of film will adore this movie but non fans of the indie circuit might not be able to access it very easily.
3 out of 4 stars