As anyone who’s ever watched a Wes Anderson film will tell you, a mere description of the plot in no way prepares you for the sheer ingenuity and the delightful quirkiness of his work. His latest, Moonrise Kingdom, has many familiar elements from his earlier films – oddball characters, storybook visuals, an offbeat sense of humor, and yes, Bill Murray. But, while films like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited focused on dysfunctional eccentrics, this one is about adolescent angst and the thrill of first love.
Set in the mid sixties on a fictional island off the coast of New England, Moonrise Kingdom is about a love story between two 12-year-olds. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who doesn’t fit in with his fellow cub scouts, and whose foster parents consider him emotionally disturbed. Suzy (Kara Hayward) lives at home with her family, but appears permanently sad and doesn’t speak much to anyone. The two kids meet at a church concert and realize almost instantly that they’re made for each other. A year later, they run away together. Pretty soon, everyone they know is searching for them, including Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam’s scout master (Edward Norton), the local police chief (Bruce Willis), and also a representative from Social Services (Tilda Swinton) who’s determined to take the boy back with her.
Much of the film’s charm lies in Anderson’s clever reversal of roles between adults and kids. Sam and Suzy, despite their age, speak in mature tones of companionship and longing. Meanwhile all the adults appear clueless over how exactly to handle this situation, and they come off as much less confident and assured than the young ones.
Beautifully written, with much deadpan humor and a lot of sincere affection, the film benefits from some deliciously odd exchanges between its characters. Witty and whimsical in equal measure, it has the feel of a quirky fairytale, and bears Anderson’s stamp all over it…from the cartoonish ‘action’ scenes to the over-stylized production design.
But it’s the excellent cast who invest in this film its big beating heart. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are pitch-perfect as a pair of married lawyers disconnected with each other and their kids. A bedroom apology scene between the couple is heartbreaking stuff. Edward Norton, as the fastidious scout leader who sends his troops off on hilariously dangerous missions, displays a flair for poker-faced humor; but it’s Bruce Willis who steals the film with a moving performance as the weary cop who’s never found true love. He’s matched only by the film’s two young stars – the very talented Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward – whose awkward, endearing romance is the centerpiece of this lovely film.
I’m going with four out of five for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. There’s sadness, emotional depth, and real feeling here. It’s a melancholic comedy that you absolutely shouldn’t miss!