I went into Wes Anderson's newest offering with quite high expectations considering that I have yet to dislike anything the hipster-adored auteur has made. Roughly ten minutes into the film I was uncertain as to whether or not the film would deliver considering that Anderson chose to focus almost the entire narrative on two kids. However, as I should have expected, the film starts off in a world of irregularity and spirals into absolute absurdity and this is easily one of his better film, third only to Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. A sweet and sentimental film, it is clear at this point in Anderson's career that he fully understands how to make a film that is both accessible to mainstream audiences and intimately familiar to his die hard fans. Furthermore, as is often the case with his works, the film is heavily concerned with the notion of family and the decaying unity that results from financial comfort and an unhealthy amount of existential self-reflection. Moonrise Kingdom takes this theme from Anderson's films a step further by becoming preoccupied with a coming of age story that is both laughably honest and heartrendingly mature.
Set in the 1960's, Moonrise Kingdom focuses on the burgeoning love relationship between two young children, the orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) who is the butt of the jokes within his scout troupe and is completely overlooked by the overly zealous Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and the well to do Suzy (Kara Hawyard) who is completely ignored by her divisive lawyer parents, played excellently by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Meeting by chance at a local performance, starring Suzy, the two agree to meet and run away in the woods to live together in happy uninterrupted bliss. This plan appears to be perfect until the individuals who previously ignored them, suddenly decide to pursue the lost couple. This expedition is led by the simpleminded island police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who follows the book and calls Social Security (Tilda Swinton) to inform her of the lost orphan. It becomes apparent that despite their best efforts that Suzy and Sam will have to part, especially after they are discovered at an uncharted inlet of the island. Despite the attempts by both parties to part the couple, the wiley group of scouts agrees to help Sam reunite with Suzy. This agreement is enacted with absurdist results, considering that Sam is at one point struck by lightning from the storm that is to lead to an upcoming flood. Social Security finally intervenes with the intention of taking Sam to a juvenile correction facility, however, at the last moment Captain Sharp agrees to adopt Sam and raise him on the island close to Suzy, despite the clear disapproval of her parents. All ends well, with Ward placed back in charge of his scouts and with Suzy closer to her family, although not completely reconnected. The film closes with a beautiful painting of the now named inlet; of course it should be no surprise that the name is Moonrise Kingdom.
After viewing the film, I could not wait to have discussions about Anderson's newest work with many of my friends who share a passion for the indie filmmaker. Many of the responses were what I expected, often citing how much they loved the quirky soundtrack or the pitch perfect performance of Bill Murray, but I found myself hung up on a particular statement from a friend. He noted that, in his opinion, many of the characters were underdeveloped, particularly Suzy's parents. I agreed with him wholeheartedly on this commentary and began considering why this occurred. I am quite certain that most of this can be explained by the notion that the film is about the two kids and not any of the other characters. We are allowed to see Suzy's parents as failing drunkards, because that is how she looks at them. Similarly, we only see Sam's orphan parents for a brief moment and it is assumed that this brief interaction is exactly like his own interactions with the elder couple. In fact, when one considers that Anderson clearly intends the other characters to be manifestations of Suzy and Sam, whether it be the bratty younger brothers of Suzy's or the almost demonic fellow scouts of Sam's. The more complex characters are then lesser realized, like Captain Sharp who is stoic and stalwart, because that is the concept that Sam knows, however, when looked at by Suzy he becomes something less. The more obscure characters are then caricatured and almost impossible, which is evident in Social Security, Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel), and most blatantly with the too cool for camp Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman). It is a new vision for Wes Anderson filmically speaking and I am all for it and can only hope for more in the future.
Key Scene: The Dance Party
If you even remotely enjoy Wes Anderson you will love Moonrise Kingdom and it is only now making its run through theaters. Go and watch it immediately.