Directed by: Wes Anderson.
Written by: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola.
Starring: Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce), Jared Gilman (Sam), Bob Balaban (Narrator), L.J. Foley (Izod), Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick (Roosevelt), Jake Ryan (Lionel), Charlie Kilgore (Lazy Eye), Neal Huff (Jed), Gabriel Rush (Skotak), Lucas Hedges (Redford), Chandler Frantz (Gadge), Tommy Nelson (Nickleby).
Because Wes Anderson’s films are so meticulously constructed – with every detail of the art direction, costume design, cinematography and even the performances seemingly so precise and obsessed over by Anderson, there is a temptation to dismiss his films as navel gazing. But underneath the outward the precise surface of his films, there lies real stories, real characters and real emotions. His movies are about dysfunctional families – parents who cannot connect with their children, and the children who become messed up adults as a result. Even when he made an animated film – the great Fantastic Mr. Fox – his animated characters went through those same feelings. In his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, the kids and still kids – and anxious to grow up at that, but looking at the adults, you just want to tell them to slow down a little.
The movie centers on two young teenagers, trapped in worlds that seem to be entirely self-contained. There is Suzy (Kara Hayward), who lives with her lawyer parents Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and three younger brothers, in one of those big houses that exist in Anderson’s films (think the Tenenbaum house). She has no friends, and knows her parents think her troubled – especially since she finds a pamphlet entitled “Dealing with the Troubled Child”. Then there is Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphan who doesn’t fit into his foster family, and also doesn’t fit in in his Khaki Scout troop. Her house, and his scout troop, are both on Penzance Island, off the coast of New England, near the end of the summer of 1965. We see how they met the previous summer, and how they planned their escape from their isolated worlds in the past year by being pen pals. They meet up in a field – him with a load of camping supplies, her with her beloved binoculars, books and kitten – and head off on an adventure across the island. Meanwhile, the adults – the dysfunctional Bishops, the Police Captain (Bruce Willis), who may be having an affair with Mrs. Bishop and Khaki Scout leader Ward (Edward Norton) go into a tizzy trying to find them.
From the opening scenes of the film, you know you are watching a Wes Anderson film. From the pans across the house the Bishops share – kids in one part of the house, adults in another, separated so much they might as well exist in different worlds – to the record deconstructing an orchestra, to the first view of camp Ivanhoe, as the camera tracks Edward Norton in profile going through his daily inspection, the precise art direction, the strange color palette, to the details which stretch reality, and the deadpan narrator, we know we are in Anderson’s storybook world. This is a childhood adventure story, and a real love story – Suzy and Sam may be young, and playing out an adventure fantasy, but they really are in love – at that they are not playing. Their journey has elements of the French New Wave – I was reminded of Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (which, not coincidentally, came out in 1965, the year this movie is set. Suzy is made up to look, and act like Anna Karina in Godard’s film – stylish, yet aloof. The two disappear into their own fantasy land – listen to a French singer on their record player, and act as if they are the only ones in the world.
The film contains Anderson’s trademark deadpan comedy – played to perfection by its cast. We know Bill Murray is up for it – and he delivers another wonderful performance as Mr. Bishop. But he is matched by Frances McDormand as his wife, and Bruce Willis as the third part of the love triangle. Best of all is Edward Norton as the Khaki Scout leader - he’s good at his job, although as one thing after another happens, he looks worse and worse, and Norton becomes more befuddled. It is a welcome reminder of just what a gifted comedic actor the usually intense Norton can be in the right role.
Moonrise Kingdom is a wonderful film – expertly crafted by Anderson, but with a mixture of tone from comedic to melancholy that Anderson handles just right. It has the sweetness and innocence of a children’s fantasy, and yet the realism that the world of adults is a whole lot messier and confusing than it all seems as children. This is one of the best films of the year.