IMDB Summary: A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.
By now Wes Anderson’s aesthetic style is well-documented. Baroquely precious with a meticulous attention to detail. A precise and equal care is taken for each object and/or person in the frame. Composition is key. Each shot feels like a mini-presentation. He alternates between shooting people or objects head-on and employing what seems like a record number of tracking shots. He is always calling attention to himself but not in a way that takes from the experience.
His impeccable taste in music has resulted in choices that always feel like a varied and inspired fit. Love in Bottle Rocket. The Kinks, Chad and Jeremy and The Who in Rushmore. Nico and Elliot Smith in The Royal Tenanbaums. Satyajit Ray in The Darjeeling Limited. A consistent collaboration with Mark Mothersbaugh. A gifted penchant for picking tracks by The Rolling Stones. The list goes on and on. For music lovers, there is an added thrill to seeing how he will incorporate songs into his works.
His films are about eccentric outsiders who are trying to fit in and find their place in the world. The world that Anderson has created for them to experience life in fits their mentality and supports their whims. They go on journeys, both physically and emotionally, often at the same time. Their idiosyncrasies both hurt and help them. And of course, there is usually a strong familial link in his work.
There is a fantastical element as well, an unashamed basking in the very idea of the ‘cinematic’. He fuses the artificiality of his aesthetic with the real emotions of the peculiar individuals that populate his films. It is easy to write off Anderson as someone working in empty exercises, but his aesthetic goes far beyond its own surface-level indulgence and his stories are sincere and filled with fleshed –out characters that support the director’s whimsy.
If this all sounds like a love letter so far, that’s because it is. Like many folks my age, Rushmore is one of a handful of films that had what I would call a profound impact on me as an adolescent. Since then, his films have felt like gift-wrapped treasure troves. There is an immediate satisfaction to his work, but it is often so overwhelming to the eye, that the rewatch value on them is exponential. Suffice it to say that Moonrise Kingdom has taken over my top spot for 2012 films thus far. It is his best since The Royal Tenanbaums, and one that seems to have made an impact on a great many people even as Anderson pushes his style about as far as it can go.
It is curious to note that it has taken Anderson this long to focus his attention on kids, although come to think of it, Max Fischer was only a few years older than Suzy and Sam. Where Rushmore looks at, among other things, the obsessive naiveté of unrequited first love, Moonrise Kingdom is about a mutual relationship between troubled youngsters.
A self-consciously purposeful awkwardness exists between Sam and Suzy that goes in line with how Anderson presents his material. It pervades over their lovely performances. Gilman in particular is a riot; he has a line delivery about turtles that had me in tears. In fact, a significant portion of this film had me laughing out loud. Sam is an orphan and the least popular kid in his Boy Scout troop, by a ‘considerable margin’. Suzy is pent-up with inner turmoil and is prone to violent outbursts. The affectations of the performers are integral to the result. A side effect of Anderson’s mini-presentation execution is that he redefines how films can flow moment to moment. Stiltedness lingers as awkward beats exist between bits of dialogue. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are very clearly ‘performing’ but at the same time they fully inhabit their characters.
Anderson uses the awkwardness for specific purposes that directly relate to the nature of Sam and Suzy’s relationship. These are two lovably strange kids, but strange nonetheless. They are running away together, yet have only met face-to-face up until this point for a momentary blip. Their epistolary communication has taken place over a year’s time. So by the time they meet, they are embarking on a life together, having only met for a matter of seconds. This is how Anderson uses his flamboyance to enhance the story; the stiff beats that occur are fused with the as yet unknown dynamic between Sam and Suzy, two kids who are peculiar on their own, let alone together in unconventional circumstances.
The adults in the film are all reacting to the situation that Sam and Suzy’s absence has thrown at them. Of all the adults, Edward Norton makes the biggest impression as Scout Master Ward. He is a member of the ‘aw shucks’ generation trying to sustain a connection and impact the lives of his Boy Scout troop to increasingly no avail. Norton has a way with making his eyes seem puppy-dog like, forcing a palpable investment in his character as his lovable earnestness makes itself known.
Bruce Willis, even in a Wes Anderson film, still manages to save the day. His Captain Sharp has an important part to play that allows his life to have more purpose to it than his current sad-sack existence. I also really enjoyed the material featuring Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Murray is easily my favorite ‘regular’ of the filmmaker’s, a droll match made-in-heaven if you will. Anderson and Roman Coppola give just enough of a sense of their marriage to see the sadness of behind it. Their mutual nonexistent level of investment in each other, her affair, and his self-pitying, depict two people who just happen to live together. It is a snapshot image of the failings of adulthood that coexists without distracting from the main story.
The structure is on-point. Delaying the introduction of the children and beyond that, delaying the necessary backstory to their relationship, are both nuanced decisions that bring a lot to the proceedings. A little touch that also worked to striking effect is the decision to only hear the beginnings of their letters to each other.
Moonrise Kingdom treats Sam and Suzy’s flight from their respective residences with the grandiosity that parallels the fact that this means everything to our protagonists. Even though it carries that weight, it never becomes self-serious. The humor is very easily extracted from the situation and played for all its worth, which is quite a lot.
The second night centerpiece of their excursion has a particular importance. Taking on the children’s perspective also allows Anderson to indulge in the ways we expect him to. These include our titular slow-motion sequence, French New-Wavy touches, Bob Balaban’s narrator who deals in geographical factoids with a this-is-where-it-all-went-down resolve. One could go on and on and on. For example, what would a Wes Anderson movie be without something like Suzy carrying around a Francoise Hardy record in her suitcase?
Of course the choice of music is, as always, inspired. Alexandre Desplat’s wondrous score is used in a way that manages to support a 1970’s filmmaking sensibility despite taking place in the 60’s. There is also a reliance on Benjamin Britten and a healthy touch of Hank Williams that all organically fit.
There is a cluttered quality to the final 20 minutes that loses a bit of what it had built up. Sam getting struck by lightning is one of a handful of touches that were a mite too much even for me.
Something I love about Moonrise Kingdom is how Anderson and Coppola never confirm or deny the permanence of Sam and Suzy as a pair. They seem very likely to move onto other phases and people in their lives. It never dampens the occasion though because all that matters to the filmmakers is the ‘present’ moment and what matters to the characters within the timeframe of the film. Moonrise Kingdom is as enchanting as one of Suzy’s fantasy tales and a triumph both within the scope of Anderson’s career thus far and outside of it.