With “Moonrise Kingdom,” director Wes Anderson has crafted a truly different movie that looks and feels unlike anything else that has come out so far this year. Which is always welcome in this age of remakes, sequels and endless superhero franchises.
It’s amusing but also sincere. It has outlandish and entertaining elements to it, yet it’s authentic. And it’s 100 percent Wes Anderson through and through. It has all of his usual traits; the stiff performances from the actors, the script, by Anderson and Roman Coppola, contains the kind of funny, naturalistic dialog we’ve seen in past Anderson pictures, along with the deadpan deliveries from the actors. And of course Bill Murray (who’s now appeared in six Anderson movies starting with “Rushmore”) manages to show up.
One of the best things about Anderson’s style is how casual it feels. The movie isn’t big, loud, flashy and overbearing but instead relaxed. It may make you laugh or make you emotional but it’s not trying overly hard to do so. Anderson isn’t manipulating your emotions. For how small scale the movie is, it has an immense amount of creativity packed within it. It’s anything but plain.
The story is simply told. It takes place on an island, located off the coast of New England. Two twelve year olds, the troubled Suzy and the equally troubled Sam who has recently escaped from his Boy Scout camp (played with surprising conviction by newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), fall in love. How can they be in love when they’ve only met once before and exchanged very few words? Perhaps they don’t even know why. They are twelve after all, and have tough family lives. Anyway, they decide to run off together.
Essentially, “Moonrise” is an adolescent adventure story. Sam, wearing his Boy Scout uniform, along with a coon skinned cap and a corncob pipe, is like a miniature Daniel Boone, while Suzy, with her long dress looks like a “Little House on the Prairie” type girl. And the island, complete with dense forest and creeks acts as a miniature frontier.
It’s a kid’s world, and much like Max Fischer, the hero of “Rushmore,” Sam and Suzy believe they’re grown up and that the world revolves around them. Meanwhile the adults, such as Edward Norton as the Boy Scout master, or Bruce Willis as the Island’s police captain, are either squares or--as in the case of Tilda Swinton as a child services employee and Murray and Francis McDormand as Suszy’s parents—are oppressors. The movie proves once again that Anderson has a knack for depicting both the angst and wonder of childhood.
The movie is a period piece, it evokes a certain time period and place (New England in the 60’s). The costumes and props as well as the music all have the appearance and style of that time period. And it’s that epoch which gives “Moonrise Kingdom” its distinct look and style, as well as its freshness.
Like a period piece and in an Anderson pic the staging of each scene is flat and rigid, even in ones that contain motion. In one particularly elaborate scene at the beginning inside Suzy’s house, the camera tracks her and her three younger brothers as they move in and out of rooms, upstairs and downstairs. However, the camera remains outside of the house, almost like the viewer is playing with a dollhouse.
But you can see how much delicate work Anderson along with production designer Adam Stockhausen and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman have put into them. Everything in the shot composition, even something like an average rock, looks like it was carefully placed there, for whatever reason. Even when there’s just a talking scene there’s always some little detail to look at. When Sam and Suzy send letters to each other in a montage sequence, the paper they use is the kind of lined paper--with a dotted line in between each space--elementary school kids use to help them learn the sizes of the letters. Another indicator of the childishness that pulses through the whole film.
On top of that, the movie is absolutely beautiful, Anderson’s most visually stunning yet. The picture has a yellowish tint to it overall, not to mention the color scheme within each scene, made up of many different colors that practically pop off the screen. The various shades of brown and green from the scout uniforms, or the trees, the yellow grassy field where Sam and Suzy meet to run away. Even Suzy’s record player is turquoise to contrast against her light red dress. Every scene looks like a painting.
Like anything else, I’m sure “Moonrise Kingdom” won’t be for everyone. You either like Anderson’s quirky style or you’re repelled by it. You might ask: Why doesn’t he make a different kind of movie, in a completely different style? And maybe in the future those quirks will get repetitive; he will have to do something entirely new, but for now he likes making movies this way. And that’s fine with me.