Directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman - Rated PG-13
This review might be pointless. I’m not doubting my critical skills (I’ll leave that to you, the reader), but reviewing Wes Anderson films in the traditional sense just doesn’t make much…well, sense. Here’s the thing: If you like Anderson’s previous work then you should at the very least watch Moonrise Kingdom; if you hate his movies, then definitely skip it. He has certainly not changed his style. So this review is pointless if you don’t like his films. If you are like me and you very much enjoy the majority of his work, then keep reading; I might have some thoughts that interest or anger you.
I am not the biggest Wes Anderson fan out there, but the films of his that I do enjoy, I enjoy immensely. My favorite films, in no particular order, are Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. That list alone might get an argument started with cinephiles because of a title or two that’s included and one or two that is left off. The important thing is that I am a fan of Anderson’s style, both the visuals and the dialogue. It’s just sometimes the story doesn’t work for me or it seems a bit pointless. The point of all this is that I am happy to say that Moonrise Kingdom can be added to my favorites list.
Moonrise Kingdom has the style you’ve come to expect from Anderson in that it is set in 1965 (nearly all of his films look like they are set in the 60s, but this one actually is). The production design and soundtrack are great as usual, so no need to delve into details, other than to point out that it is funny to see a few of the actors dressed as boy scouts. It’s all very quirky and amusing, and I am being sincere. I’m usually one to say that the aesthetics of Anderson’s work are just there for the sake of quirk, but in this case it is more about homage. Apparently this film is influenced by the Jean-Luc Godard film Pierrot le Fou. I must admit ignorance when it comes to Godard’s films, but I am definitely going to check out a few now, if only so that I can appreciate this film a bit more. It’s obviously not required viewing, though, since I enjoyed it very much and I didn’t know about the influence until after I had seen Moonrise Kingdom.
Having an influence isn’t what made the style completely worth it for me, though. The story and the characters are touching and humorous, and that is what makes some of Anderson’s films great. (I need to clarify that this film was co-written by Roman Coppola, so Anderson didn’t do all of this on his own.) Moonrise Kingdom is essentially a love story about two young people who don’t fit in. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan with “emotional” problems who wants to escape from his khaki scout troop and run away with Suzy (Kara Hayward), a “troubled” girl who wants to escape from her family. They travel all over a New England island, engaging in amusing conversation and awkward first love. It’s all very sincere and you really want things to work out for them.
Nearly everyone else in the film tries to keep the two apart. This group consists of the heavy hitters of the cast like Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Edward Norton. These actors, along with Jason Schwartzman, are the faces you’ll see in all of the promotional material for the film, but they are supporting players. They all do a fine job and it’s really just about personal preference when it comes to picking favorites. Simply the idea of Bruce Willis appearing in a Wes Anderson film is funny to me, so he was definitely my favorite, especially since he gives a heartfelt performance that we haven’t seen in a long time. Norton and Schwartzman were a close second and third because of their sincerity. Norton is channeling his gee-whiz performance from the under-seen Death to Smoochy to great effect and Schwartzman seems to be picking up right where Rushmore left off with equal success.
The whole khaki scout aspect of the movie was great. I thought it was funny how the scouts were basically run like a military organization. An impressive tracking shot revealing the workings of the camp near the beginning of the film fits in perfectly within the Anderson canon. The scout stuff also lends to plenty of interesting visuals (my personal favorite was the tree house that was far too high).
Visually speaking, this is one of Anderson’s most beautiful films. All of the outdoors scenes allowed him to try something new as far as setting is concerned and he shot in some great locations. On top of that, a storm near the end of the film (this isn’t a spoiler since the narrator lets the audience know about right from the start) created some great moments as well.
Moonrise Kingdom isn’t anything new for Anderson, but that isn’t such a bad thing. What’s wrong with a guy knowing what his style is and sticking with it? If you don’t like his style, don’t watch his films. Simple as that. If you are a fan of it, then definitely check this one out. You might not count it among your favorites but it is very unlikely that you’ll be disappointed by the film because it is about as Wes Anderson as Wes Anderson can get.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
Since he wasn't in any previews or in the opening credits, I'm guessing Harvey Keitel's appearance is meant to be a surprise. I just wanted to point out how funny it was to see him pop up in this film, only to promptly blown up.
I really like the title of the film and thought it fit in perfectly with the tone of the film. The actual Moonrise Kingdom was a very beautiful spot in the film as well, and there's something to be said about the fact that it has disappeared after the storm.
Another very Anderson aspect to the film: The kids seem to know exactly what they want, while the adults are the truly lost characters who need to change and grow by the end of the film.