Quirkiness can be a difficult vehicle to tell a story. In the case of director Wes Anderson (who also co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom with Roman Coppola), it can sometimes mean style over substance. His films The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and The Royal Tenenbaums were drenched in style that at times overpowered the essence of the stories, leaving some to wonder if his films made sense. In The Fantastic Mr. Fox Anderson’s affection for childhood wonderment seemed to find the perfect blend of both worlds via animation. Enter Moonrise Kingdom. This whimsical retro fairy-tale is filled with nostalgic eye candy, and may be a wish fulfillment for many who yearn to see love through the eyes of innocence.
If you’re looking for an eccentric story that will leave a smile on your face, look no further than this little gem that carefully tells the tale of two love-struck misfits.
Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, adventurous tweens Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) come up with a plan to meet in the woods, run away, make a home for themselves in a tent by a lake, and begin a life together. Suzy comes from unhappy parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and Sam is a fiercely independent orphan who’s misunderstood by his foster parents and just about everyone else. This backstory underscores the motivation for the two youngsters to play out at an idealized adulthood burdened by the oppressive weight of careless, indifferent adults.
After the two young love birds disappear, various groups of the town rally to search for them and in the process the town is turned upside down. On the eve of what we are told by the film’s meteorologist narrator (Bob Balaban) will be the biggest storm in a decade, what happens during the search are the things that fairy tales are made of.
In what can be described as a perfect blend of Harold and Maude and Melody with a dash of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it seems that elements of the film – if isolated – would only work separately and in different art house films. However, they somehow meld perfectly together in Moonrise Kingdom. The first frames of the film are carefully choreographed with cinematography that has the feel of looking at a small town through a dollhouse, which sets up the film’s fantasy tone. Anderson’s childlike sensibility is clearly defined with his choices of style and pacing.
The film’s humor is dry. It can be argued that there’s a disconnect between the characters and reality. In true Anderson fashion, emotions are stripped from the dialogue, leaving the children to deliver mature lines with deadpan sarcasm. This approach may leave some moviegoers feeling removed from experiencing any emotions for Sam and Suzy’s romance. However, keeping in mind that the film’s universe stays away from formula storytelling, letting go and allowing yourself to get caught up in the film’s wit may be a breath of fresh air.
To underscore the film’s voice, every set piece is filled to perfection with retro details. Anyone with an eye for mid-century detail will fall in love with the art direction. From the furniture pieces to the hand-crafted costumes, every frame of the film is a sight to behold. To emphasize the role of nostalgia, the soundtrack is filled with obscure tunes that underscore the film’s quirkiness perfectly. Music by British composer Benjamin Britten plays a surprisingly prominent role in Moonrise Kingdom. “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, opens and closes the film. In the context of the film, it could be perceived the choice of music personifies a child’s approach to organizing life’s complexities.
If fiction reveals truths that reality obscures, then Wes Anderson’s love letter to adolescent love may have more honesty than most films set in reality. Moonrise Kingdom is a lovable film that at times seems to fall in love with itself – and that’s just fine.
The film stars Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Jared Gilman (Sam) and Bob Balaban (Narrator).
The film is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. Running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
You can follow David Derks on Twitter at @dderks
For those interested in learning more about Melody, here’s the 1971 theatrical trailer: