Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

There are some real heavy weights here:  Bill Murray (can there be a Wes Anderson movie without him?), Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bob Balabay, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel.  And yet Wes Anderson’s delightful, quirky, warm-hearted movie is completely stolen by the two young stars who play 12-year-old runaways.

Jared Gilman plays Sam, an iconoclastic, orphaned Khaki Scout who is not liked by any of the other scouts. Kara Hayward plays Suzie, the disturbed and angry daughter of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.  For over a year, after Sam saw Suzie playing a raven in a local production of Benjamen Britten’s children’s opera Noye’s Fludde, the two have been planning to escape their unhappy lives.

When Sam escapes his Scout camp, the authorities are alerted.  When Suzie is discovered missing, everything goes into overdrive.

As the two twelve-year-olds make their way through rugged country–Sam is an extraordinary Scout–we get to witness one of the most beautiful, innocent, and real love stories.  Maybe the most intense love is that one that is first felt when you are twelve years old?  It certainly is for them.

Yet the real world, in the guise of hurricanes, adulterous unhappy parents, foster parents, social services, man-scouts, and a lonely policeman, comes crashing in on them.

This is a comedy, so everything ends well. But the journey towards that ending is filled with all the anguish and hope of being in love at 12 years old; it is defined by  that feeling of being too small against the world while believing that one’s unique love will protect you from everything.  In many ways, it is perfect. (One reviewer said that it was made by the 12-year old Wes Anderson, so perfect is the point of view.)

The two young stars are extraordinary. They are playing children who are precious, treading in the murk of real life, battered by injustices and misunderstandings that are too big for them to withstand, and roiled by all the passions of first love.  And they play it perfectly.

And aside from the two kids, and the A-list group of adults, the set designers, graphic artists, and cinematographers are also front and center in the film.

From the quirky credits and the Bishop’s  loopy house to the book covers on the adventure stories that Suzie reads and the watercolors that Sam paints, everything pops with an fresh palate of color and tone and liveliness.  You are aware of the filming–not in an obtrusive way but in a way that stuns and delights you. This is not cinema verite; it is very aware of its artfulness and it succeeds at it.

The natural setting is gorgeous–our two runaways have found Eden–and the sets are filled with color and eccentricity.  While the island New Penzance is based on Fishers’s Island, NY, I am not sure where it was actually filmed. But it is romantic–in the original sense of the word–and sublime.

I have enjoyed all of Wes Anderson’s films, but am often left with a sense of emptiness, with a sense that surfaces were barely scratched and characters hardly born. Moonrise Kingdom is different.  While not a character study, by any definition, it is a beautiful study of original love, love that is pure and scary and wonderful and all of that.

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