Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – There is a thing some directors have: singularity of vision. They’re the type of film-makers that 30 seconds into one of their films you immediately know who the director is. Wes Anderson is one such director. He’s made films about such diverse characters and topics as thieves, a prep school student, a dysfunctional upper-class family, an oceanographer, three brothers on a train in India, and a stop motion animated film about a crafty fox. Yet in spite of that wildly varied subject matter there’s a certain aesthetic that is instantly recognizable. In addition there is a certain style of dry wit that defines his films almost as much as the precision-crafted visuals. Hell, even a credit card commercial Anderson directed bears all the trademarks of his signature style. Almost all of his films are in the Criterion Collection (excluding Fantastic Mr. Fox and this one, but the latter likely only by virtue of its current theatrical status). Moonrise Kingdom is his latest film, reuniting him with his The Darjeeling Limited screenwriting collaborator Roman Coppola. Is Anderson’s hot streak still going?

A narrator (Bob Balaban) sets the scene of Moonrise Kingdom for us: an island in New England just before a major storm in the late 1960s. The plot concerns the whirlwind romance of two precocious preteens named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gillman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Sam is AWOL from khaki scout camp, where his troop leader (Edward Norton) rallies his fellow scouts (who don’t much care for Sam) to search the island for the missing boy. When Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) realize she’s missing, they involve the local police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis, apparently the only police officer on the very small island). Suzy and Sam are content to hike around the island in search of a secluded cove where they can have fun and escape the bonds of family and scouts, respectively. They may be running away from things more than running away together, though. Suzy has “emotional issues,” and Sam is an orphan who’s foster family doesn’t want him back which means Social Services (Tilda Swinton) is coming for him.

Moonrise Kingdom has all the quirky wit and visual intricacy one expects of a Wes Anderson film. It doesn’t quite rank alongside my favorites of his (The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited) but I have been known on occasion to appreciate his movies more upon repeat viewings (specifically Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). There is also a core of sweetness to the film, specifically in regards to Sam and Suzy’s “two against the world” relationship. Both Gillman and Hayward are great finds, who will hopefully go on to artistically rewarding careers (Hayward in particular has wonderfully expressive eyes). Frequent Anderson collaborator Murray does a lot with a small part, as is really to be expected of him at this point. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Frances McDormand fit rather nicely into Anderson’s milieu. It doesn’t sound like a major compliment to say that Moonrise Kingdom meets expectations (I think most would prefer to exceed them), but I went in expecting a pleasant and entertaining film filled with the whimsy I’ve come to anticipate in Anderson’s films. I think those are expectations that are well worth meeting.

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