A storm is on the horizon and 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy are about to fall in love just before it hits the shore. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is the story of their journey and the effect their love has on those around them and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.
Set in 1965, through a series of dolly movements upstairs, downstairs and down the hall, we first meet Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) and her family as if we’re looking in on hamsters in a cage. Without a word, the entire scene is set to the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” and we are to take away from the series of scenes what we must based on the distance between characters, their faces and demeanor. Suzy’s an outsider, her three young brothers are a team and her parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) aren’t exactly the doting type.
By comparison, the introduction to Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a bit more like the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where the warden realizes Andy Dufresne has flown the coop. Sam is (was) a member of the Khaki Scouts of America, but, like Suzy, he’s an outsider. He has no friends among his fellow scouts and he’s had enough.
One morning Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) realizes his troop is missing one member and upon inspection of Sam’s tent a note is found. Sam has resigned from the Khaki Scouts and he and Suzy — through a series of circumstances and letter-writing — have decided to run off together. Even though they’ve only met once and only for a few minutes, a connection was made and their journey begins.
Told in just over 90 minutes, Moonrise Kingdom isn’t a sprawling epic, but more of a contained love story and given the number of characters involved, it’s amazing how Anderson can make us feel like we know more about them than may even need be in only a few minutes. Details such as Suzy’s stolen library books, her brother’s love for his record player, Scout Master Ward’s good intentions, Sam’s scouting skills, Suzy’s mother’s need for a cigarette and so on all give us insight into who these people are given the situation and circumstances.
Teaming once again with cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman (The Darjeeling Limited) for the sixth time the film is bathed in familiar golden hues and the attention to detail given the ’60s setting is above and beyond. Additionally, Anderson’s use of miniatures to the extent he displays the characters’ travels on a map is unique as they use stop-motion animation to illustrate a line being drawn on a map using push pins and string in a genius stroke of visual storytelling as opposed to sticking with the traditional montage.
Alexandre Desplat’s bouncing score lends itself well to a story that feels, at moments, like a harkening back to the days of the French New Wave and at others like a deconstruction of the story of Peter Pan. There may not be boys that can fly, giant crocodiles or a Captain Hook, but Suzy is Anderson’s Wendy and there are surely more than this film’s share of lost boys.
Anderson’s decision to go with a pair of absolute unknowns to play the film’s leads may appear gutsy at first, but both Gilman and Hayward are outstanding. I don’t know how long it was into the film before Hayward’s stoic stare was broken by her first smile, but once it happened the relationship between Suzy and Sam was sealed and only grew from there.
The supporting cast is equally up to the task including small cameo appearances by Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton’s appearance as someone we only come to know as Social Services.
Anderson co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom with Roman Coppola who also co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited and clearly has found a voice inside Anderson’s work. As detached from reality Anderson’s films seem to be, they cover the gamut of the human experience each time out and this film is no exception. The characters experience love, loss, regret, shame and so on and in such a way that it isn’t as much dramatic or even comedic (though it has plenty of laughs) as it is flat out entertaining.
Moonrise Kingdom could now be considered the third member in a triptych of cute, contained personal journeys alongside the highly comparable stylings of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox. With that said and as much as I enjoyed this film, he needs to be sure not to milk this style of storytelling for more than it’s worth, but at this moment it’s worth plenty.