Consistent readers of the past few weeks will know that I have successfully watched almost every one of Wes Anderson’s films, and his two shorts, Bottle Rocket and Hotel Chevalier, respectively. I conclude my odyssey with one of incorruptible beauty, style, and substantial material. Moonrise Kingdom is an effervescent experience for moviegoers, seemingly existing in its own little world, unlike the last two Wes Anderson films that seemed to be firmly set in a specific, recognizable place, whether it be the ocean or the charming atmosphere of India. This feels like it has erected a world from scratch and its laws and rules from places of heavy beauty.
We are greeted with instantaneously likable, precocious children, and if Anderson were to produce a sequel (thoroughly doubt it, too many quirks and new worlds to create and time is fleeting) it would most likely focus on them as morose, unkempt adults approaching a heavy midlife crisis. In a way, it feels a bit like The Royal Tenenbaums, if we were presented with extensive backstory on the Margot character and why she became so depressed and mentally unfulfilled. For once, I believe Anderson wanted to focus on characters when they are happy with their current place in life.
Yet the melancholic urges of the director come into play when it is possible that these two spunky twelve year olds may not be allowed to be together. They are Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Sam is a “Khaki Scout” member at the unusual Camp Ivanhoe on a small and modest island of New England, and Suzy is summering with her dysfunctional and incompetent attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Their love is so crisp, real, and so beyond their years, yet is not simple lust. It is definitely something more. A mutual understanding is still a tad bit of an understatement.
When the counselors at Ivanhoe get word Sam has escaped, they organize a search party, led by Bruce Willis’s welcomed Captain Sharp, and eventually round up Tilda Swinton’s saucy Social Service executive to join the hunt. Sam and Suzy were pen pals for about a year, before sneaking out of their confines to meet each other. They have come heavily prepared and are destined to lead a life of happiness – hopefully.
Anderson, per usual, not only comes prepared with his band of regulars in his casting, but also equips his keen eye for painstaking detail and colors. Here, much of the photography consists of sunlit, grassy plains, evocative shots of the sky as it hovers over the graceful landscapes, and a mountain of beauty occupying every scene in the picture. The framing is astute, the colors are there, including his trademark love for the color red, and everything feels at home here. Sometimes, it is hard to subitize everything on screen. This is the first Anderson picture not to feature Owen Wilson in any specific credit, but he goes on record saying that he was on set frequently, gave advice on the screenplay, and assisted in a lot of the feedback for the rough cuts of the picture. His presence is here, just very muted and missable.
It also seems Anderson has incorporated some great morals in the film, as well. They are all executed perfectly, and mainly center on the typical “young love” premise, but replace cliches and convention with quirks and eccentricities, present the topic of physical and mental escapism maturely, in way of gratitude, and showcase the drastically distant standpoints between the parents and the child.
Moonrise Kingdom impresses me more than Anderson’s previous efforts, and ranks right behind The Royal Tenenbaums for my favorite film by him. There’s some very crafty filmmaking going on here, per usual, but some of his efforts, Bottle Rocket and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou for example, seem a tad meretricious. They are beautiful films that exfoliate their photography and look, but wind up shunning the humanity aspect I so ever hunger for as a cinephile. There needs to be some sort of a connection with these characters, and only sometimes we can acceptably be deprived of that during impressionistic filmmaking. Wes Anderson’s films aren’t impressionistic, and usually, have no hard moral behind any of them (not a bad thing, despite sounding like one). Sometimes, he spends so much effort on the painstaking detail and look of it all that he forgets we must spend an upwards of one hundred or even two hours watching characters through a pretty indistinct lens. Moonrise recognizes humanity and knows how to apply it. We care about these characters from the first frame to the last.
NOTE: The film’s soundtrack is probably the best composed out of all his films. It features several tunes by the country legend Hank Williams, who also happens to be one of my favorite singers. We hear the infectious tune of “Kaw Liga” in two or three scenes during the film, as well as some other ones collectively forced into background harmonies. Yet this is shaping out to be a better tribute to him than The Last Ride, his upcoming biopic, looks to be. Though it would be nice to see little Sam and Suzy set the woods on fire.
NOTE II: As of this writing, Moonrise Kingdom is available to rent on multiple streaming platforms.
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban. Directed by: Wes Anderson.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!