Mark Reviews Movies

Moonrise Kingdom


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and smoking)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 5/25/12 (limited); 6/1/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 31, 2012

The adventurous circumstances and sensations of young love permeate Moonrise Kingdom, co-writer/director Wes Anderson's whimsical (Does he have another mode?) story of two misplaced—physically, emotionally, and psychologically—youths. That the film also concerns the people around them is, perhaps, unfortunate, as they really only exist in the hearts and minds of the two young lovers as obstacles to their happiness—or at least as much happiness as these two kids can manage to raise from beneath their veils of misery.

At least one of them should be happy, but it's easy enough to say that from the outside. The film opens with a series of dolly and crane shots through a house. There's activity of some kind at every point where the camera pauses, from children listening to a record (The soundtrack plays an educational record of a boy breaking down the individual elements of an orchestral piece, much as Anderson visually breaks down the home) to a mother using a bullhorn to call her family to dinner. Outside of all of this is 12-year-old Suzy (Kara Hayward), who stands atop her house (where there is a lighthouse) on the coast of a small island, staring through binoculars at something, anything, that isn't home.

She imagines her binoculars are her superpower. She's just that sort of girl.

Sam (Jared Gilman) would not want her to be any other way. Sam is also an outcast. He's an orphan, a fact that surprises the adults who encounter him, like Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), if only because such things just shouldn't be on New Penzance Island, where, in 1965, there are no paved roads, mail comes in on a single-engine plane, and telephone communications with the outside world take place at the central operator's station. A helpful narrator (Bob Balaban) takes us on a tour of the island near the beginning and becomes an active participant in affairs when the characters need help with geography.

Sam's foster parents think it's time to split ways with their; it's not fair to the other children in the house to have such a bad influence around, they explain to island's sole police presence Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). The kids in his Khaki Scout troop know Sam to be different from the rest of them.

That's why he and Suzy get along so well from the start, when a chance meeting turns into a pen-pal friendship. A montage of their correspondences shows how their inner feelings of loneliness and awkwardness turn into outward outbursts of bad behavior; at key points, this includes acts of seemingly random violence against their peers when they dare to point out both Sam and Suzy are a bit odd. When the kids of the scout troop eventually confront them during a search of the island, it becomes a childhood game of cowboys and Indians but with the real potential for someone to be seriously injured.

Sam runs away from Khaki Scout camp, and Suzy runs away from home. They take only what they need and wander the island looking for a place to call their own.

It's as simple and as sweet as that, really, and Anderson and co-screenwriter Roman Coppola capture that combination of tenderness and awkwardness that comes when two kids who don't know how to contain the feelings (and hormones) inside them try to figure out how to use them for something resembling romance. Sam shows off his survival skills—sometimes exaggerating their necessity for simple tasks, like making a harness to lower their equipment and Suzy down a cliff when a simple walk around would work just as well. When they finally reach their own special place away from the world—a cove with a scenic view—they dance and soon embrace. Strange things are happening to their bodies in the moment, and they have to explain and apologize for certain parts of their respective anatomies.

Meanwhile, the adults of the island are abuzz with the news of the runaways. Captain Sharp (These characters really do need their official titles before their names, otherwise they are nothing) begins a search party, with Scout Master Ward leading his scouts, who see the expedition as more of a hunt and arm themselves appropriately. Suzy's parents Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray) are both attorneys and try to insert themselves into the particulars of the search as much as they can. They're also experiencing marital difficulties, with Laura sneaking off in the middle of the night to share a cigarette with Captain Sharp.

These characters' existence outside of the kids' story is unnecessary, as they are, from Sam and Suzy's perspective, unnecessary to kids' lives. They don't offer much in deepening the reasons for Sam and Suzy's feelings of alienation, aside from the short scene with the foster parents and an argument between Suzy and her mother that hints at some animosity on the daughter's part about Laura's extramarital cigarette breaks. In due course, Captain Sharp does have a bigger impact on Sam's life when he and the boy have a heart-to-heart talk about love over small portions of beer.

If the supporting characters slow things to a crawl, the script finds an extended climax to match the energy of its youthful romance during a severe storm that the narrator has foretold from the start. It's a fine representation for the cacophony of young love that gives Moonrise Kingdom its heart.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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