Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom


Property of Indian Paintbrush/Focus Features


Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban.
Produced by: Indian Paintbrush
Distributed by: Focus Features
MPAA Rating: PG-13


Wes Anderson has carved out a foothold as one of the film industry’s most niche auteurs. In this day and age, it’s not always easy to distinguish between the works of different directors but one would be hard-pressed to find any other work that could be mistaken for Wes Anderson (the auteur theory is alive and well with him). Though known more for his wittily written live-action films, his last outing was with the much praised 2009 animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox. You would have to go back to 2007 to find his last live-action film The Darjeeling Limited which so happens to be what I consider to be his best film. Moonrise Kingdom is a return to the somewhat familiar for Mr. Anderson. Does Moonrise Kingdom continue Anderson’s long line of great work or does it play too safe for its own good?

Wes Anderson has traded his most common theme of the troubles of adulthood for the troubles of adolescents in this film. It’s the summer of 1965 on a New England island. A young boy from a summer camp and a young girl from the local community fall in love and decide to set out on an adventure through the scenic, untouched areas of the island. Upon their disappearance, the people of the island (parents, police, “Khaki Scout” leaders, and all) set out to find the two missing young lovers. This event not only brings the couple closer and sets them off into adulthood, but also brings various revelations to the people searching for them.

Like all of Wes Anderson’s films, Moonrise Kingdom takes place in a hyper-realistic world. Though the narrative is plausible, the events that unfold and the characters involved make it less believable. This is one of the many endearing characteristics of Anderson’s films. It doesn’t quite enter the realm of cartoon, but it most certainly feels a tad “off” but in a good way.

The short plot summary may make the film sound like a run-of-the-mill “coming of age” story, but I assure you it’s not. Sam and Suzy do enter adulthood in this film, but they seem to expect it. In fact, one could say that they are the most adult of all the characters in the film from the start of their journey until the end the film. Even more so than the actual adults. Their love is innocent but has shades of adult understanding. Their worldview does not change from their experiences because they seem to have it all figured out from the word “go.” They understand their place and the world around them. It’s the other people in their lives that have to do the growing up to understand the love of Sam and Suzy.

The film is really an amalgamation of different themes. It’s part The Dirty Dozen, part The Fugitive, part family dramady all wrapped around a sort of ”Romeo and Juliet” core. It all comes together to form the sort of story that we have come to expect from Wes Anderson. It doesn’t entirely feel new, but it is freshened up enough to be a charming experience.

Property of Indian Paintbrush/Focus Features

Though the cast lists many big names, the stars of this film are the two newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward who play Sam and Suzy respectively. While I would not consider their work in this film to be near the top of the list of child/preteen acting performances, they do a decent enough job of creating characters that the audience can enjoy. There is a lot of stiff line delivery, but I would attribute this to the adult-oriented dialogue that Gilman and Hayward are charged with navigating through. This almost gives off the vibe that the two were miscast into adult roles in something akin to a dinner theater play, but I feel that Anderson intended this. Then again, I could just be giving the man too much credit, but acting for young people is difficult (especially for newcomers) and Gilman and Hayward do a well enough job of creating likeable characters.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, and Harvey Keitel with Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman having roles as well. Murray and Schwartzman, having been in Anderson films before, understand the Wes Anderson-flow and naturally fit into their roles (as they should). The performances that I walked away most impressed with were those turned out by Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton. They, like the rest of the class, are highly talented actors, but they seamlessly stepped into Wes Anderson material and delivered. They were both very different roles as Norton was required to be more over the top and Swinton’s role was more about straight delivery, but these two generally dramatic actors successfully stretched their comedic legs. (Norton isn’t new to comedy. Check out Death to Smoochy for a dark comedic turn.) Willis and McDormand are not bad by any stretch. Their characters are predictable and they didn’t really allow for more than was expected. Willis has a few funny moments mainly based on his line delivery but there is nothing here that shows off anything different from the veteran actor.

Also of note is Bob Balaban who plays the role of narrator to the film. There is not a constant voice-over (thank goodness) but he does show up at various points of the film to present different areas of the islands that the film takes place in. These are some of the goofier moments and elicited laughter from the audience at my screening.

Wes Anderson’s visual style is unmistakably his own. I will again use the adjective “charming” to describe his visual flair. Center-justified composition, a washed-out-yet- rich color palette, a generous helping of tracking/dolly shots and locations that look almost fabricated are all present here. The Wes Anderson-look has always been visually stimulating to me so I have no complaints for the film’s look. That being said I wouldn’t call Moonrise Kingdom his best looking film as I would extend that honor to The Darjeeling Limited. That being said, it is still aesthetically pleasing. The New England-island setting with mid-60s flavor is romantic and unique to modern film. The film looks and feels like classic European cinema which adds to its captivating nature. It’s not like anything else you will see this summer if not for the rest of the year.

Anderson has a fetish for foreign and classical music in his films and that continues in Moonrise Kingdom. The soundtrack contains many classical pieces but also finds a way to mix in a Hank Williams tune here and there. The musical style is yet another aspect in a long list that defines the auteurship of Wes Anderson.

Reviewing a film by Wes Anderson is not necessarily an easy task. His films are an acquired taste, yet, I would dare to say that they are accessible by most audiences. Not everyone is going to love it, but I feel there is at least something that each person can find entertaining or interesting about it. I am obviously a bit biased as Wes Anderson has yet to do any wrong by me. His films consistently entertain and rank as some of my most memorable movie experiences.

Moonrise Kingdom may not be Wes Anderson’s best film to date, but it is most certainly his work that is the most fun. The film succeeds in crafting a quirky world and story that is light, charming, and endearing. I will concede that this may be Wes’ safest film to date as he doesn’t appear to be challenging himself in any way. It is sort of a microcosm of all of his stylistic tendencies, so if a person has never been a fan of Wes Anderson’s previous work I doubt this one will do enough to win him over. Still, Moonrise Kingdom is a fun summer film that provides plenty of tender feelings and laughs and that ultimately saves it from being a “paint-by-numbers” affair. If you HAVEN’T experienced Wes Anderson yet, then this film is a great introduction film.

 Rating: That’s ULT

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