Posted on 6/19/12 05:00 AM
From the very beginning, it's difficult to properly find what to expect from Moonrise Kingdom. Is it about young love? Triumph through adversity? Is it just a showpiece for the artistic vision of Wes Anderson? Whatever the expectations, what's marvelous about Anderson's most recent film is that they're greatly exceeded. It's really all of the things mentioned above, put together in the most delicate and skillful manner to create quite possibly the best film of 2012 so far.
The story occurs in 1965 on New Penzance Island, just off the coast of New England. Though the cast includes big names like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, the main protagonists here are the young Sam and Suzy, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward respectively. They have been communicating via letters for over a year after a chance meeting in a church play one night. Slowly but surely, their correspondence leads to them growing ever closer, resulting in them wanting to meet again. The plan is to then go on their very own adventure out in the wilderness, all the while discovering bit by bit what love truly is.
This is a deliberately simplified look at the plot, which is populated with many more clever characters and side-plots that tie everything together. Sam had to escape from camp, where he was part of a troupe of scouts, led by Scout Master Ward (Norton). This calls Captain Sharp of the police (Bruce Willis) to action, and a frantic search ensues. However, with that being said, the innocence of young love still lies at the movie's heart. Sam and Suzy are both unusual when compared to those around them, but when they're together they compliment each other rather than clash; when they talk to each other it's with genuine compassion and interest. It can almost be bizarre to see their intimate connection due to their young age (about 12 years of age), but the film is more a testament to the fact that love doesn't take age into the equation when it comes simply to the desire of being together. Love's manifestation here is a refreshing antithesis to the traditional representation in Hollywood, it reminds you of how simple love can be when the extraneous baggage of modern life is stripped away. This is ingeniously contrasted with the troubled connection between Suzy's parents (Murray and McDormand), which is falling apart at the seams. Their desire for adventure has been depleted, leaving just an empty shell of a relationship held together by their kids and home. It may sound hokey, but love is not only the central focus of the film but also what makes it so special. Few movies have ever spoken so directly and artfully to what makes love both special and hazardous.
Needless to say, Gilman and Hayward's performances are extremely affecting, which is impressive considering these are their first roles in the movies. They at times seem a bit stilted but it eventually becomes apparent that that is part of their character. At the same time, their awkward mannerisms seem to melt away when they're together. It will be really interesting to see more from them in the future. The aforementioned supporting cast does an amazing job on their own, with many of them expanding their talents further than they've ever had to before. Bruce Willis is and has always been a great actor, but this reviewer never knew he could have a more mellow side that's in full display here. Bill Murray has already proven himself to be a great dramatic actor (as in Lost in Translation) and continues this image to perfection here, while retaining a slightly comic character as well. Frances McDormand and Edward Norton are both memorable as well, though their roles aren't given as much attention when all is said and done. Tilda Swinton is a noteworthy surprise, since after her masterclass performance last year in We Need To Talk About Kevin, she takes on a more light-hearted and funny role as Social Services. Just Social Services.
These sorts of quirks are what make Moonrise Kingdom particularly admirable. It deals with often complex and almost depressing subjects, but looks at them with artistic vision and attention to the comical aspects (though these won't be mentioned here to avoid spoilers). The movie starts off with a camera going through the rooms of a quaint little home (where Suzy lives) with simple pans and rotations to portray the day-to-day life of a family in the 60s. Meanwhile, we hear a program on a music player talking about classical music, interspersed with orchestral pieces from a range of famous songwriters. It's an amazing way to start a film and it only gets better from there. The camera sometimes mimics older tendencies, such as awkward zooms towards the faces of our lead characters and a more foggy camera in between. The best thing about these creative decisions is that they don't impede the narrative. You don't stop and think: "Well, he's really showing off". It only improves the movie's uniqueness, and for fans of photography and visual arts, it makes for a whole new angle of enjoyment.
The music is particularly entertaining, since it's a blend of music from the 40s to 60s (such as Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man) to orchestrated classical pieces, which accompany Alexandre Desplat's great soundtrack. It perfectly places you into the movie's time period, and is good enough to warrant listening to outside of the theater as well.
It really is difficult to describe in words what makes Moonrise Kingdom really special. Understanding that takes the full visual/aural/narrative combination that you can only experience by watching the film. However, to put it in simpler terms, MK is about discovery and perseverance. The discovery of new things, the will to go into the unknown; the perseverance to hold on to what you love, not let go and lose sight of what was important to you in the first place. Though these aren't new emphases, the way Anderson and his coworkers approach it is so unforgettable, so colorful, careful and touching, that it really sits with you. If there's one film you shouldn't miss out on this year, it's Moonrise Kingdom.