Very few filmmakers are as divisive as Wes Anderson, the auteur behind such offbeat yarns as The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The director’s newest, Moonrise Kingdom, is his most accessible effort to date. While the film contains all of Anderson’s quirky flourishes, Moonrise Kingdom has a winning charm that distinguishes it from his previous work.
Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman play Suzy and Sam, two love-struck tweens who run away together on New Penzance (a fictional New England island) circa 1965. Hot on their heels is a search party consisting of a depressed police captain, Sam’s “Khaki Scout” troop leader, and Suzy’s out of touch parents. What’s worse for the star-crossed lovers, a severe storm is rapidly approaching the island.
Moonrise Kingdom has solid performances across the board. Bruce Willis gives his best turn in recent memory as Captain Sharp, the policeman heading the search expedition. It’s refreshing to see Willis taking on a melancholic, subdued role as opposed to his usual Die Hard shtick. Edward Norton provides many of the film’s laughs as the chain-smoking Scout Master Ward. The Fight Club actor’s goofy facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Moonrise Kingdom also features Bill Murray, always an enjoyable screen presence, as Suzy’s father. The SNL vet brings his signature brand of dry humor into the mix. If anything, Moonrise Kingdom needs more Murray.
Although Moonrise Kingdom sees commendable acting from its big stars, it’s Hayward and Gilman who own the show. The chemistry between the leads is more believable than in most adult romances, like the mediocre Magic Mike. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Academy gives these two newcomers a nod come award season.
One of Moonrise Kingdom’s biggest strengths is its fantasy-like approach to a familiar subject matter. The whimsical aspect is cleverly executed and never overbearing. Kingdom has dreamlike elements, yet the characters’ struggles feel very true to life. That being said, the picture examines some serious issues, but never loses hold of its droll spirit. Whereas some of Anderson’s efforts suffer from syrupy plot developments (Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic), Moonrise Kingdom remains tonally consistent.
Moonrise Kingdom isn’t for everyone. As with all of Anderson’s films, the script’s humor couldn’t be more deadpan. Refreshingly, there are no fart jokes or pratfalls to be had here. Also limiting the film’s appeal is its frank depiction of adolescent sexuality, which may have more conservative audiences feeling sick to their stomachs.
Moonrise Kingdom is a clever little film that supplies more entertainment than the majority of big budget blockbusters. Certainly, many will find Anderson’s unconventional storytelling to be off-putting. But for moviegoers seeking a break from all the summer movie drivel, a trip to Moonrise Kingdom should be in order.