Moonrise Kingdom

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If I told you that Sam (Jared Gilman), a man in uniform, was in love with Suzy (Kara Haywood), a woman who lived in a lighthouse on the edge of a New England island, and they were going to run away together until a hurricane approached, you would say, “Don’t we have enough crappy Nicolas Sparks’ films?”  But if I told you that Sam’s uniform was the Khaki Scouts, Suzy was a troubled teen daughter of two eccentric attorneys, they were both 12, and after they ran away they’d be pursued by half a dozen scouts with knives, axes, sticks with nails, a motorcycle, a seaplane, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, and Harvey Kietel, you might pull up a chair.  This is what happens in worlds created by Wes Anderson.  This is Moonrise Kingdom.

Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) is not the most attentive leader and either doesn’t know or isn’t aware that all of his scouts, except Sam, hate Sam and wish to beat him up because he just doesn’t fit in.  Also having trouble fitting in is Suzy, whom Sam first meets when he wanders away from a church production of Noah’s Ark and stumbles upon Suzy in her raven costume and applying her make up in the dressing room with the other birds.  It only takes a short exchange and some challenging glances for them to know they’re soulmates, and it must be true because they don’t see each other again for a full year.  Only true love can do that.

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They write letters and make a plan.  Sam steals a canoe, and Suzy packs a suitcase.  Sam brings a tent, sleeping bags, and a mess kit.  Suzy brings a kitten, books, a record player, and lucky lefty scissors that will be needed.  Sam can catch fish and cook them on the fire he can build.  Suzy believes she has magic binoculars.  I can’t even begin to make it sound as absurd as it really is, and I haven’t gotten to all of the grown ups searching for these pre-teen fugitives.

In addition to the distracted scout master, the search party includes Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis) of the Island Police, a lonely bachelor involved, semi-secretly, with Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), Suzy’s mother.  Walt Bishop (Bill Murray), Suzy’s father, is in a world of his own as he struggles among searching for his kid, figuring out if his wife is having an affair, and drunkenly chopping down random trees as stress relief.  The searchers are rounded out by a sadistic group of scouts who, when not carefully tending to their camp chores, look forward to the beating they plan to deliver Sam.  I did mention that this is a comedy, right?

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Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore) clearly has learned Woody Allen’s two rules of comedy.  Rule 1:  react normally to absurd situations.  Rule 2:  react absurdly to normal situations.  Not only is the whole film pretty much “theater of the absurd,” but part of its beauty is that is it presented like theater of the bad.  There’s a narrator (Bob Balaban) who seems to appear through a time warp, simultaneously dryly telling about the future while existing in the moment.  Dialogue is delivered like a stale pizza, as if the actors had just glanced at it and are reciting it to the best of their limited memories – but it works and is part of the charm.  Anderson’s camerawork is fabulous, tracking shots around the Bishop home as if each room was built and stacked on the set of the old TV show Hollywood Squares.  Even outdoor shots are fun, often with characters centered in the frame while everything else seems to move around them.  The colors feel overexposed, as if the whole film was shot through Instagram, which helps to give the “feel” of being set in 1965.

Sam and Suzy are 12, but they’re not children.  They’re more in control of their lives than any of the adults, and I think that’s part of what Anderson is going for.  Many children are smarter than their parents, and often better behaved.  Lots of kids know more than we give them credit for, and these two are no exception.  They have such an awareness that it wouldn’t be a surprise if they moved to the suburbs, got jobs and a house, and lived happily ever after.  Age doesn’t matter in Moonrise Kingdom, only desire.  They desire to escape those who don’t understand or appreciate them.  They desire to help and protect each other because it seems the only people interested in their happiness is each other.  Winning “Movie of the Year” from the American Film Institute and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay probably brought along some happiness too, I suppose.  The only thing I was not happy about was a short but awkward scene in which Sam and Suzy are dancing in their underwear.  While it might be normal for 12-year olds to experiment with touching each other, it somehow seemed kind of wrong for us to watch it.  It was a scene I could have done without and contributed nothing.  I guess even the best summer fantasies can’t be perfect. Note of interest, this role was the result of Cara Hayward’s first ever audition, and she is a member of Mensa.

Teacher gives it an A for both a grade and Absurd.

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27 thoughts on “Moonrise Kingdom

  1. I loved this movie. The cast was wonderful. In typical Wes Anderson style, it is shot wonderfully as you expressed in your piece. I enjoy all his films and this one is no different. I would agree with on about the dancing scene, but otherwise the screenplay is Oscar worthy. I really thought Bruce Willis and Ed Norton were just great. But they won’t get nominations for this type of film. Unfortunately. Thanks for the review. It is a must see in my opinion.

  2. Great review. I wanted to see this but didn’t get the chance. I’ve enjoyed all of Wes Anderson’s films, thus far, so I’m sure I’d like this, as well. My 21 year-old son didn’t care for the “touching” parts either, and in fact said it was super uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see it and kept putting it off? Stuff like that bothers me.
    Anyway, nice job.
    Lisa

    • thanks very much, and there’s no reason to skip it. you’ll see the dancing/touching scene setting itself up, and you’ll be able to avoid it easily. thanks, and thanks for reading.

  3. I loved that movie! Interestingly enough, I actually didn’t mind the ‘underwear’ scene, at least the dancing part, because it reminded me of the complete awkwardness of being that age. My favorite part was when he was smoking the pipe while she read to him…priceless!

  4. I watched this movie the other day. I loved it. The art direction was perfect (I meant to check if it received any nominations for that, but it slipped my mind). I thought it was really well cast with regard to both the “name” stars and the child actors. I think we will see them again. I also enjoyed the brief screen time given to Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman.

    Nice review. You are right on the money in describing it as a movie about desire. And I agree that the scene with them dancing in their underwear was unnecessary. It made me slightly uncomfortable and felt out of place in this movie. If it were another director I would say that he meant for us to be uncomfortable, but I just don’t know if that was Wes Anderson’s point. I mean, it wasn’t porn or anything, but it wasn’t “innocent” either. Maybe that was the point. What do I know? I’m just a waitress.

    • JUST a waitress? I eat in diners in restaurants more often than I should, and I have a great appreciation for waitresses. I admit I did you really study them more than I should, but that does not factor into the tip. Thanks very much for reading and knowing what you are talking about for sure.

  5. Good review Rich. I really like this movie as well, and it’s grown on me a lot more since watching it. Also, I love your opening lol, I never thought of Sam as a “man in uniform sweeping away a young love” but it works. Thank God it’s Wes Anderson and not Nicholas Sparks lol

  6. Hi Rich,
    You say absurd, I say ridiculous. Thought this was a poor excuse for a movie and the screenplay was crap. Lines were delivered woodenly and in a monotone matter-of-fact manner. A comedy? Where where the laughs. And the underwear scene is risky and borders on child porn. “You can touch them” is not a line I want to hear from an adolescent. This movie is an endorsement of children being pushed too soon into the adult world. Overall, I found this film more irritating than entertaining and I have trouble understanding the awards it has received. But I didn’t much like the other films Anderson has inflicted and just don’t like his brand of moviemaking. Ron

    • it’s interesting that the elements you’re describing are not very different at all from what i’m describing. however, they made me laugh. and the difference between me laughing and you not laughing is probably the same as me liking pizza with pepperoni and you preferring pizza with mushrooms. it’s all up for grabs. however, what’s important to me here is that you didn’t just say you hated the movie. you more specifically examined what you didn’t like and why, and that makes for a conversation as opposed to someone who just says “hated it.” regardless of all that, thanks very much for reading.

    • oh, also, about the “growing up too soon” thing. my perception is that it’s not about children growing up too soon but about children who are more capable than we give them credit for. the kids here act more grown up or at least equally grown up compared to the adults. sam and suzy believe they feel love, while suzy’s mother is cheating on her father, and it grosses her out. tilda swinton just wants to toss sam into an orphanage, and sam’s foster parents are just simply done with him and don’t want him back instead of trying to help.

    • and of course not all kids can perceive things in such ways, but many can. my ex-wife does all kinds of wrong things when dealing with me and my daughter, and my daughter sure knows the difference between right and wrong and often says so.

  7. It’s a strange, quirky movie. I didn’t love it, but it stuck in my mind, and that’s something. Maybe I should try watching another film or two by Wes Anderson.
    I did download the title song, though. Like ‘Tubular Bells,’ it has all the instruments coming in one at a time, including tubular bells, of course!

    • tubular bells – from the exorcist! yeah, i can’t hear that without cringing. i plan to watch another of his films this weekend, likely “rushmore” or “the darjeeling limited.” i’m glad it got you “thinking.” that’s good. thanks for reading.

    • It’s the kind of movie that only 10 percent of the people might watch, but those 10 percent will love it more than whatever the other 90 percent has watched. Thanks for reading.

  8. Wes Anderson is not for everyone I guess.10 percent is about right. It’s quirky with beautiful scenery, great acting, and kids being kids. As a former 6th grade teacher I know some kids start to think and act like that at that age (yes 12). I didn’t see it as creepy, rather sweet and pretty innocent to me. Then again, I wouldn’t find it appropriate for my students watching this film although they see much, much worse.
    On a side note I keep getting Wes Craven and Wes Anderson mixed up which makes everyone laugh at me. Apparently they make very different kinds of movies!

  9. I LOVED this movie and will watch it again. It was so great. So well done, touching, meaningful.

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