“Moonrise Kingdom” Review
The Wes Anderson brand has become a thing unto itself, and we can give all of that credit to, well, Anderson himself. He’s certainly a director who has been uncompromising in developing his films the way he sees fit, studios be damned. What the studios have learned is that Anderson’s films, while wildly unconventional, are authentically unique enough to draw a dedicated fan-base regardless of what the plot may be.
Anderson’s latest foray into the world of deadpan humor and fantastical realism (I might have just made that up, but if you’ve seen an Anderson film post-Bottle Rocket, you’ll know what I mean) is likely his strongest work since The Life Aquatic. Set in 1965 off the coast of New England, Moonrise Kingdom is the story of young love (both actors are supposed to be 12 years old) and the struggle to keep it alive amid the cynicism that runs rampant in the world.
While Anderson’s films have never been loud affairs, Moonrise draws much of its power from the quiet, unspoken moments. One of the best scenes you’re likely to see this year is between Sam and Suzy on a desolate beach dancing to some 60’s Euro-pop. No one says a thing, but the connection between the two misfits is made obvious and compelling.
In the past, the eccentric director has let his own personal quirks get in the way of the film itself (The Royal Tennebaums), but here he moves out of the way to allow the actors to tell the story. Make no mistake; you’ll never forget it’s an Anderson film, though.
A new trick that Anderson pulls this time around is using actors who haven’t yet shown up in his films. Bruce Willis, who has built a career on mostly action flicks, portrays a burned-out sheriff with quiet power and nails it. It’s tough not to ham it up in a film this quiet in an attempt to liven it up, but Willis seems to know the strength of his Captain Sharp to let him devastate you. Another new actor, but one with a reputation for excellence, is Edward Norton. Another goofball who ends up helping to save the day and Sam’s life, Norton’s whacked-out self-importance is hilarious enough to make you laugh out-loud. Do I even need to mention Bill Murray? He’s an Anderson regular and a legend. That’s all you need to know.
The real champions of this film are Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Sam and Suzy respectively. If you want to see a couple of preteens who know what it means to portray innocent love perfectly, this is your shot. Gilman’s awkwardness is offset by his true-blue bravery and adoration of Suzy. Their interactions are often filled with little dialogue, but that doesn’t stop them from screaming their love for one another through simple acts of caring. We should take some lessons from these two. Sam helps her down from rocks, across rivers, and cooks for her during their escape not because he’s looking to hook-up, but because he genuinely loves her. Suzy’s passion for Sam is equally evident, and all this is done with little more than a single kiss they share on an empty beach.
After a few days of thinking about it, I place Moonrise Kingdom in a tie with my other favorite Anderson film, The Life Aquatic. Sure, there are fantastical elements and it’s ultra-stylized, but Anderson’s characters find simple, but devastatingly profound truths in the most unlikely of places.