If the director’s name was omitted from the opening credits, you would still know exactly who created Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson’s style is so familiar to his fans they would be able to pick out his sixth film anywhere. The character close-ups with them staring directly into the camera are here. The short, simple and declarative sentences are here. Of course, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are here; however, those two are the extent of the usual Wes Anderson film players involved in his latest. There is also the whimsical plot, an omniscient narrator, and a character named Social Services.
Moonrise focuses on two 12 year olds, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). They consider themselves misunderstood and find kindred spirits in one another on a small and isolated New England island in 1965. Sam is in a Khaki Scout troop run under the detailed eye of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). Suzy is an island native being raised by her lawyer parents, Walt (Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), who call each other counsellor during conversations. Sam and Suzy follow through on their idea to run away together and are quickly pursued by Suzy’s parents, Scout Master Ward, and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who appears to be the lone policeman on the island.
Sam and Suzy make a good pair. He has absorbed excellent camping and nature skills from the Khaki Scouts and Suzy, after getting tired of feeling like the black sheep of her family, relishes the fact that she is not alone in the world. Sam has been alone a long time. He is an orphan who does not fit in anywhere and is now also pursued by Social Services (Tilda Swinton). These two 12 year olds spend a lot of time in front of the camera together and thankfully pull it off. Moonrise Kingdom would have been in big trouble if Wes Anderson had not found capable kids to fill these shoes.
The adults take on supporting roles either as parents who just don’t understand or confused authority figures who cannot figure out why their charges would ever want to run away. Captain Sharp is tired and lonely, the Bishop parents are growing apart (which is not helped by Laura’s frequent bullhorn announcements), and Scout Master Ward thought he was running a tight ship of scouts before the run away. He is starkly confused on why anyone would ever want to leave the scouts, even if they are the most unpopular one in the group.
The actual run away escapades, the ensuing search parties, and the developing relationship between Sam and Suzy are best left for the audience to watch and discover rather than read about it in a review. Notable supporting characters pop up now and then which will cause audience members in the know to smile. The most enjoyable parts of the film though is Wes Anderson’s familiar atmosphere. There are not too many films whose world you wouldn’t mind drifting off into. Plenty of people would raise their hands to jump into a Wes Anderson world, be it in such previous efforts as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and now Moonrise Kingdom.
Robert Yeoman has been the director of photography on all six Wes Anderson films and the audience can see it immediately. The long, panning shots, the in your face close-ups, and the ever so slight fairy tale feeling are all trademarks of his style and camera work. The script is up to Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums standards and thankfully surpasses the lesser efforts of The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited. Co-written with Roman Coppola, the dialogue is what you expect from Wes Anderson and the scenes with the 12 years olds are spectacularly written. These are not just children, perhaps under-sized adults is a more suitable term.
Thank goodness for Wes Anderson. Without him, the cinema would be a far less interesting place to go to. His peer group includes the Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Cameron Crowe. Together, that list makes a formidable effort to educate movie-goers about what true films are capable of and continue to push back against the mundane garbage you usually are served from the likes of Michael Bay and Adam Sandler.