“Moonrise Kingdom”, Wes Anderson’s newest feature and easily one of his best, is a delightful, colorful and flat out beautiful depiction of young love, seen through the eyes of a director with a youthful heart. Sure he might overindulge in terms of visual style and whimsy, a passion and uniqueness I personally love, but in the end his mastery behind the camera and tenderness for his characters and the stories he tells make for wonderful experiences.
Not everyone always feels the same obviously, many are completely turned off by his work, but I think in this case even the most anti-Anderson crowd will have a hard time not falling in love with this story, these characters and the touching, charming and often hilarious situations they find themselves in. That is because this time around, more so than in his previous film, the line between reality and fantasy is extremely thin. In his previous films, and this is coming from someone who has loved EVERYTHING he has done (yes, even ‘The Darjeeling Limited’), the worlds he creates, with their overtly intellectual, quirky and often pompous characters, are often interpreted mostly as shallow and even more harshly labeled as pretentious and annoying because they are drowning in an ocean of visual grandeur. Although I personally love it, I cannot say I blame people for thinking it. The story, emotion, pain and humanity of many of his films can be lost and viewed strictly formalistically in his attempts to stay grounded while also throwing a very thick layer of style over everything. The difference with “Moonrise Kingdom” I believe has to do with the perfect blending of that passionate and fine eye for detail, color and design and the central human story below the surface. Here we have the joys and passions of young love, juxtaposed with the hollowness and pains of adulthood in a way that feels more like a fable than an actual depiction of real life. It is in that way, how this feels more like a story out of one of Suzy’s fantasy novels, that makes it work so well.
This fable takes place over the course of a few days in the summer of 1965, on a fictional island off the coast of Rhode Island. It follows Sam Shakusky, an orphan and Boy Scout who has trouble making friends; and Suzy, a smart but depressed young girl whose parents think is “troubled”. After meeting a year before, and becoming pens pals, the two decide to run away together. When the Scout Master (Edward Norton) finds out he goes to the local police captain (Bruce Willis) to start a search party with Suzy’s parents. As Sam and Suzy’s love blossoms in their adventure across the island, the adults have secrets and personnel issues that begin to get in the way with their search for the children.
Visually intertwined with this story are everything one would expect from a Wes Anderson film. Those fantasy elements and overall tone I mentioned above are really driven by the use of tracking shots, almost always consisting of layers of action, with things happening in the background that could be easily missed on a first viewing; and set and costume design that not only capture the era (the late 60’s) but also a very fantastical and specific melancholy-summer atmosphere. The house where Suzy lives for example feels more like a doll house, with the characters just puppets under Anderson’s guidance. In this way the entire film really feels like a live action version of a story that would normally take place in the world of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”.
As for the performances, which are just as important as the visuals and designs because of Anderson’s writing and humor, are all around just wonderful. For the adult cast this comes as no surprise. Bill Murray for instance is no stranger to Anderson’s films (this being the sixth time he has appeared in one). The rest fit in nicely, with Willis and Norton seamlessly blending into the world and dead pan humor. What really blew me away was the performances by the two child leads, Kara Wayward (Suzy) and Jared Gilman (Sam). Now these performances were not perfect, I felt like they stumbled over a few lines and their delivery was flat at times, but it worked in their favor making the performances feel very natural, never forced and their missteps felt more like children trying, and at times failing, to sound smarter than they really are which was in line with the personality and background of both.
Overall this definitely ranks up there as one of Wes Anderson’s best, probably right behind “The Royal Tenebaums” (my personal favorite of his). As for its place amongst the rest of the films this year? I can easily say that it is the best, and my favorite, filmso far in 2012. And although there are still many more to come, I think I’ll be hard pressed to find another film that was as all around beautiful, charming and fun as “Moonrise Kingdom”; and even if it doesn’t turn out to be the “best of the year”, it will most likely be the one I revisit most often.