Basic Plot: Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) are two pen pals struggling at two different camps who conspire to run away together into the wilderness. A romance blooms between them while various eccentric adults (played by Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and others) and young scouts attempt to locate the runaways and bring them back.
This is a Wes Anderson film. For those who don't know him, he's the quirky mind behind Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. His movies have a very distinct style, in both the deadpan dialogue and symmetrical, percise visuals. And another consistent factor is that there is not much grey area with his films. You're either going to adore it or just scratch your head and wonder what the fuss is about. It's The Catcher and the Rye of Hollywood, yet despite this I still think everyone could agree on one thing about this movie.
It looks incredible.
Anderson's work is known for appearing very exact and often symmetrical. A common sight in one of his films is someone holding a letter in the center of the frame, or someone looking directly at the camera, perfectly in the middle. There is meticulous detail in the background, seen in the infitnite books, paintings, and other trinkets created for the movie, as well as the precise position of cars, buildings, and people, all of it transforming each shot into a sweet and childlike tapestry. One beautiful example is a scene from Royal Tenenbaums when Luke Wilson is sitting at a bus stop while sailors in matching white uniforms walk single file behind him. In short, Anderson is a bit like the Stanley Kubrick of this generation, where the majority of shots are carefully planned out and executed. And having watched all his films, in no other movie does Anderson accomplish this better than in Moonrise Kingdom. Every single frame of this movie looks like a painting. The opening credits is like a tour through an immense and colorful shoebox diorama. And everything in the wilderness is downright beautiful. Whether it's a somber, grey-blue lakeside or an absurdly tall, Silverstein-esque treehouse, you simply cannot take your eyes off this film.
The beginning of the film is very funny, with Scout Master Ward (played by Edward Norton) walking through the boy's camp and scolding them for various and hysterical violations (including the aforementioned treehouse). Bruce Willis also makes his appearance somewhat early as the aging yet devoted Police Captain Sharp. Norton and Willis are so good as playing people who are both bumbling and actually lovable (a feat rarely accomplished in film) that I wondered halfway through the movie why Anderson hadn't used them before. The other adult actors perform well (Bill Murray, Frances Mcdormand, Jason Shwartzman) but it's Norton who really shines here. He's the epitome of an authority figure who loves his job yet is not particularly good at it, and every line he delivers is both funny and truly earnest.
But this film is not about the adults, it's about the kids. Anderson has never had more than one child as a main character in his films, and I worried a little whether the young actors could pull it off. But they did. Granted, there are a few moments where the chemistry didn't seem to be quite there between them (mostly toward the beginning) but I'll chock that up to the fact that their characters still a bit shy around each other. As the film progresses, and their relationship becomes stronger, the skill of two actors seemed to improve along with it. There's a fantastic scene where the two leads have to face off against a heavily armed group of other campers, and it manages to be suspenseful, hilarious, and gory all at once. And when it's over, you realize that you just witnessed a truly great scene where no adults were present. You don't see that often.
This film made me laugh a good deal more than other Anderson films, yet what I appreciate most, other than the visuals, is how epic the movie is. The events of the story, how they build and build until a thunderous climax feels less like a quirky romance and more like something from the bible. And this is probably intentional since there are refrences to Noah throughout. The music rains down on the film like fire, full of brass and bravado and chanting choirs, yet it never feels like it's too much to take in. I enjoyed the quiet moments as well, including a tender let's-have-a-beer scene between Shakusky and Captain Sharp which I wished had gone on longer.
Which brings me to the two problems I had with the film. For starters, it feels a bit rushed. At 93 minutes, it never drags, yet there several characters and plotlines that do not receive enough weight. Bill Murray is critically underused, and while he plays his typical sad old man character, he's so good at it I wanted to see it fleshed out. A veteran actor makes a cameo appearance late in the film but doesn't do much else after he is introduced and in the end he should have been given more screen time or omitted alltogether. I understand the focus of the movie is on the two kids, and the movie excels at this, but if you're going to spend a good portion of the movie on the adults as well, you need to spend enough. Ten more minutes to elongate certain scenes would have greatly improved the film.
And secondly, because of the film's brevity, I didn't get much of an emotional rise from the ending like I did with Rushmore or Royal Tenenbaums. I have no complaints about the ending, it's fine the way it is, and I enjoyed the film as a whole, but it doesn't pluck at your heartstrings, and it's not something that's retained in your brain for long afterwards.
That all being said, Moonrise Kingdom is still a vibrant, funny, and beautiful film. I would absolutely see it again. Anderson once again proves that CGI isn't necessary to create new and dazzling worlds for us to wish we could crawl inside, and if my dream as a writer is to have a published book, then my goal as a film enthusiast is to be cast in an Anderson film. Just to be there.
Best Way to Watch: While you're packing for a camping trip