There are certain components that come with the territory of many movies by Wes Anderson. Quirky child characters, off-key dialog, a tone of direction that feels both simple and animated at the same time, and of course Bill Murray. Anderson has never utilized these ingredients more impeccably than in “Moonrise Kingdom,” an absolute perfect movie. The film has the essence of a fantasy, yet still feels so true to the magic of a person’s first romance. The overall sensation the film emits is sheer warmth, making spectators want to wholeheartedly cuddle up to it. Only Anderson’s wonderfully peculiar imagination could have produced “Moonrise Kingdom,” easily making the picture his best to date.
The film sets itself in a 1965 New England island town populated by childish adults and kids that are beyond their years. Two standout misfits in the town are preteens Suzy and Sam. Suzy, played by Kara Hayward, is an out-of-control girl who was suspended for stabbing another kid with scissors. Sam, played by Jared Gilman, is an emotionally disturbed scout who has been kicked out of several foster homes. They meet at a Noah’s Ark reenactment and soon come to realize that they’re soul mates.
One day, the lovers decide to take off on a road trip through the woods together. The efficient Scout Master Randy, hilariously played by Edward Norton in a pair of khaki shorts, is the first to discover that Sam flew the coop. Suzy’s parents, played by the faultlessly cast of Murray and Frances McDormand, eventually realize that their daughter is missing, too. It is up to Bruce Willis’ bumbling Capt. Sharp to find the two runaways. Given the limited amount of authorities in town, Sharp decides to make the resident boy scouts honorary deputies.
Anderson directs “Moonrise Kingdom” in an old-fashion style that almost makes it feel like a film from the 1970s. He creates a uniquely inventive world with a color scheme and art direction that pops right out at the audience. Along with Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, Anderson produces several marvelous single continuous shots, most notably a sequence that follows the scoutmaster inspecting the unusual activities of his troupe. The enchanting production values blend right in with the movie’s alluring atmosphere.
Alexandre Desplat’s musical score is the stuff that dreams are made out of, setting a wondrous and haunting mood. Desplat’s score practically becomes a character in the film, especially during the end credits in which his orchestration is demonstrated for the audience. The score builds up from the electronic metronome, to the strings, to the percussion, to the wind instruments, until the melody is at last complete. It’s hard to explain why, but the sequence sums up the entire sentiment of “Moonrise Kingdom,” leaving the audience on foreboding note.
The heart of “Moonrise Kingdom” is the relationship between Suzy and Sam, two social outcasts that finally find comfort in one another. In the wrong hands, the serious feelings they share could have seemed too weird and inappropriate. Sam and Suzy’s romance never hits a wrong note though. This is mainly thanks to the sincere screenplay by Anderson and Roman Coppola and the mature acting talents of Hayward and Gilman, both of whom are newcomers. The film treats both Suzy and Sam like grown ups, recognizing that kids can be much more supplicated than we give them credit. The end result is one of the most oddly charming passions since “Harold and Maude.”
One wouldn’t expect a romance between two preteens to amount to anything epic. But the tale of Suzy and Sam is truly a love story for the ages that will leave audiences hooked all the way through. Will Sam and Suzy’s love overcome their parents, the authorities, and the society that has deemed them unstable? All of this is answered in one of the year’s most exciting cinematic climax’s, which I won’t dare spoil. You’ll just have to see this brilliant movie for yourself to find out.
Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.