Wes Anderson creates small worlds in which big things happen. Heartbreak, love, calamities, and death are all a part of his intricate game. In Anderson’s wonderful Moonrise Kingdom, a girl and a boy — both 12 years old — run off to a remote island where most adults seem disappointed and more than just a little sad as to what their lives have become. The boy and girl act in a serious manner well beyond their respective ages. They have plans about love and life itself. She wears bright blue eyeliner, and he puffs on a corncob pipe.
The film immediately becomes more than just a series of events. It’s completely transformed into a world with its own set of rules. Everything is driven by desires convincing as they are magical. It is set in 1965 — though it might as well be set in the present. Immaculately designed and emotionally charged, Anderson builds around this New England summer with the two young romantics when love first blooms.
The hero Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who stirs restlessly under what he perceives to be childish restrictions. Suzy (Kara Hayward), the heroine, lives with her family and is considered a problem child. She does have a temper, though she has three younger brothers (which may explain her tantrums). Yet like most Anderson characters, she’s also troubled on a deeper level.
Suzy is beset by an existential despair that ultimately diminishes when meeting her soulmate/conspirator (Sam). No one understands their attraction. Hell, they’re both just 12 years of age. He’s a string bean and she’s a cool chick with makeup. But Anderson, along with the resonant script by Roman Coppola, knows their true hearts. The kids soon become pen pals and plot a sort of jailbreak from their lives. They can have an adventure away from the wary adults (if only for a week).
Sam is an expert in scouting, and Suzy is a dreamer. When they begin their long planned rendezvous in a meadow on the island, Sam is burdened with all the camping gear they could possibly need. Suzy brought books, her cat, and a portable record player with extra batteries. They soon head off on a journey that can only be categorized as part quest/part romance with a touch of film noir.
Along the way they encounter dangers — both human and natural — but finally find paradise in a pretty cove they rename Moonrise Kingdom. Adults soon intrude on their paradise. Because this is an Anderson film, you know the great Bill Murray will appear. He has worked in every single Anderson film after starring in Rushmore. In Moonrise he plays Suzy’s father Walt — while the incredible Frances McDormand plays Suzy’s mother.
Murray is always perfect for a role in an Anderson film, and I wonder if it’s because they both share a bemused sadness about them. There’s a sort of resignation to the melancholic world of Moonrise that even Sam and Suzy, who are sharing the experience of a lifetime, seem aware that this will be their last summer of such adventure.
The following year, the duo will be too old for this type of irresponsibility. Meanwhile, the adults have begun a worried search for them. The film’s narrator (delightful Bob Balaban) announces that a hurricane is coming. Suzy’s parents call the police led by Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis). Sam’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton) organizes a search party with the help of his boy scouts, his chief (Harvey Keitel), and his cousin Ben — a scam artist in scout’s clothing played by the stellar Jason Schwartzman. A character known only as Social Services (Tilda Swinton) gets involved due to Sam’s standing as an orphan. This top tier cast performs small miracles with their unique characters. McDormand and Murray excel at showing a faltering marriage in microcosm.
The approaching turmoil of adolescence is told by the approaching hurricane. This places the lives of the young explorers in danger. As the film’s climax unfolds, Anderson links everyday with the extraordinary to form terrific artistry.
The success of this film depends on its understated gravity. Moonrise shows a director growing in maturity and confidence. To my mind, Anderson is oxygen in a Hollywood atmosphere choking from its own greed driven tail. The Texas-born filmmaker always fills his films with lively colors that are never gaudy. In Moonrise, the palette tends towards the green of new grass, the brown of Sam’s khaki, and just the right amount of red. It’s a comfortable and pretty canvas that helps establish the feeling of magical realism. Yes, we know these events are less than likely, and the film’s entire world is fantastical.
With that said, Anderson handles every scene with such sensitivity and openness one can’t help but be captivated. While Sam and Suzy’s story has the charms of fairy tale, they aren’t playing at love. They are in love, and that is by far the most real thing in the world.
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