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Moonrise Kingdom

Movie Information

The Story: Two misfit children run away on an island in the summer of 1965. The Lowdown: Sweet, beautifully detailed, funny and very human tale of first love -- with all the trimmings one expects from Wes Anderson. Easily the best film of 2012 so far and a must-see, especially for fans of the filmmaker.
Score:

Genre: Comedy Romance Drama
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman
Rated: PG-13

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is one of those rare movies that I would have been perfectly happy to sit through a second time the minute it was over. In fact, I wish I could have, because this is a film I don’t believe can be adequately assessed and written about on a single viewing. This is also a film that I approached with a certain amount of trepidation. As someone who considers Anderson a true American original and one of the top filmmakers of our era, I was frankly leery of the overwhelming critical praise that was being heaped on this one (even if some of it was qualfied and leaned heavily on that hateful word “twee”). I needn’t have worried. This is full-on Wes Anderson—and my immediate response is that it’s a masterpiece and the best film to come out so far this year.

So why the unusual enthusiasm for this Anderson film? Well, it’s certainly not a question of style. Moonrise Kingdom opens with one of the most Andersonian scenes ever, with his camera moving through the rooms of a shaved set to introduce the characters. It’s almost as if he’s deliberately inviting his detractors to kvetch about how he moves his characters around like figures in a dollhouse. I thought the opening was brilliant, charming and funny (part of Anderson’s sense of humor lies in how he shows things), but why this film played better for people who don’t, as a rule, like Anderson, I have no clue. Maybe the mitigating factor is that the story centers on children, and that the film is helped by a rather traditional climax. But who really knows? I’m simply guessing. What I’m not guessing about is how terrific the film is.

The film is unusual in at least two respects. Unlike Anderson’s other films that are set in a kind of wobbly present, Moonrise Kingdom takes place in a very specific time period, the summer of 1965. More, it has a stronger sense of deliberate autobiographical references than the others—or at least specific childhood occurences like the church performance of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde and the discovery of the pamphlet on how to deal with a “very troubled child.” How seriously this should be considered is open to question, especially since the whole thing is distanced by being set four years before Anderson was born. And how important any of this finally is—especially in dealing with a filmmaker whose cinematic view of the world so often draws on a present that’s a great deal like the past, or like an idea of the past—may be open to question.

The story of two troubled children—Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who have bonded (mostly as pen pals) in their mutual outsider status, and decide to run away together—may perhaps relate to the childhood experiences of the Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson characters in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Here, however, that theme moves from background to the main story, and the bulk of Moonrise Kingdom is grounded in its account of first love and its mix of innocence and discovery. Truthfully, most romances in Anderson’s movies have a certain childlike innocence to them—and a childlike inarticulate quality—so it’s hardly a surprise that the children here often sound a good deal like Anderson’s adults, but there’s an extra level of charm this time. And there’s a degree of it all being something that audiences can relate to from their own pasts.

None of this is to say that there’s any shortage of adults with their own quirks. Indeed, the parents, authorities, and various concerned parties aren’t any more functional than the children. And, of course, there are some familiar Anderson players on hand—Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman (who might almost be Rushmore Max Fischer gone slightly wrong). The surprise is how smoothly people like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton integrate into Anderson’s world where everyone takes everything—and themselves —very seriously indeed and are completely unaware of the absurdity of it all. Similarly, Anderson proves he’s just as at home with the music of Benjamin Britten as with Bowie, the Stones or the Kinks. Plus, the film has the usual feel of being something that might almost have been made in the 1970s. In other words, it’s very much a part of Anderson’s filmography. It’s also one of his best and most endearing works—and one I can’t wait to see again. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

23 thoughts on “Moonrise Kingdom

  1. Me

    So he’s finally found the perfect balance of style and substance? I knew with Fantastic Mr. Fox he was getting ever so close.

  2. Sean R. Moorhead

    I thought he found it with Rushmore and never lost it.

    I think Anderson’s style was fully formed from Bottle Rocket. His debut was like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, Louis Vuitton luggage in hand, to the accompaniment of the Kinks.

    In any case, I can’t help but feel that the question of whether or not Anderson’s style is affected misses the point on a number of levels, the first of which is that all style is an affectation; it’s just that we treat certain styles as fundamentally weightier. Second, I don’t think the stylization and quirkiness of Anderson’s films is arbitrary; it always reflects the characters’ personal histories and the thematic direction of the films. It’s not the kind of “Let’s cram a bunch of odd characters together with no regard for why they behave the way they do or how they bounce off of each other” storytelling that’s so infuriating in Little Miss Sunshine, a superficially more realistic film.

  3. Sean R. Moorhead

    I was frankly leery of the overwhelming critical praise that was being heaped on this one (even if some of it was qualfied and leaned heavily on that dispicable word –£twee–§).

    I felt a little like a hipster, but yes, I was wondering whether the overwhelmingly positive reaction was an ill omen, especially since critics and audiences seemed not to care for my two favorite Anderson films, The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I think Anderson’s style was fully formed from Bottle Rocket. His debut was like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, Louis Vuitton luggage in hand, to the accompaniment of the Kinks.

    Perhaps I need to watch Bottle Rocket a third time, but it just didn’t strike me the same way the subsequent films did. I started with The Royal Tenenbaums and didn’t see the earlier two till after Life Aquatic (but before Darjeeling). Rushmore felt fully-formed, but I have yet to get that sense from Bottle Rocket. I just re-watched Tenenbaums this morning — to test my suspicion that Anderson was evoking The Magnificent Ambersons (and I am more of that opinion than ever now).

    I’m glad you quoted that bit of my review, otherwise I might have missed that it had been tampered with. My original read “that hateful word ‘twee,’” and someone changed hateful to “despicable” — adding insult to injury by misspelling despicable. It has now been changed back to “hateful.” I am not amused.

  5. Xanadon't

    Caught a 5:00 show at the Terrace theater on my way out of Charleston yesterday. (And any movie-lover that finds themselves in the area ought to check it out.)

    Perhaps a rewatch will help more than I suspect. But for now I’m left trying to get comfortable with the idea that eventually one of his films would have to take up permanent residence at the bottom of my list.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Interesting — and slightly depressing — since I disliked the Peanuts specials from the age of 11 when the first one appeared.

  7. Me

    Am at a loss i don’t think ive ever heard anyone say they don’t like Charlie Brown. The later incarnations and the comic strip are whatever but the first couple of specials were classics.

    Vince Guaraldi was great too ive always liked the song Joe Cool and wish he would have sang more reminded me of Bob Dorough.

    Did you watch the video in that Slate link?

  8. Ken Hanke

    Am at a loss i don’t think ive ever heard anyone say they don’t like Charlie Brown.

    Well, now the ice is broken, but that is not what I said. I said I disliked those TV specials. That does not mean I dislike the character or the comic strips per se.

    the first couple of specials were classics.

    I would call that a debatable claim, but so many things are called “classics” today the term means very little anymore.

    Did you watch the video in that Slate link?

    Yes. Did it convert me? No. It is simply not a type of animation that appeals to me.

  9. Jeremy Dylan

    Well it’s really a Hank Sr vs. Ralph Stanley question. I might tip toward LAWLESS because they’re original recordings, rather than just particularly well chosen existing ones.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I know who Hank Sr. is, though I’m not familiar enough with him to be on a first name basis. I suppose it’s a matter of what one is attuned to, but the first thing I think of musically when I think of Moonrise Kingdom is Benjamin Britten.

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