Moonrise Kingdom (4 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums)
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (The Darjeeling Limited)
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Edward Norton
Throughout the years Wes Anderson has constructed a variety of quirky films for his repertoire that have told many different tales. From his initial film Bottle Rocket, which started out as a short film to his animated feature film Fantastic Mr. Fox Anderson has weaved magic in the world of film. There have been some great crowning jewels in his crown like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. There have also been a few that missed their mark, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited. With Kingdom Anderson reigns over the typical blockbuster films of the season and focuses on young love, the concept of family, and throw in some quirk you have one of the funniest, beautiful films of the year.
Moonrise Kingdom centers around the young love between two children Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Sam is a little off kilter; he does not fit in with the other khaki scouts. Sam was orphaned as a young child, and he feels as though he has nothing to lose in his adventurous life. Meanwhile Suzy comes from a family intact although not happy. Suzy may be even more disturbed even though her parents Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) and Walt Bishop (Bill Murray) treat her and her brothers with love and care. While with his khaki scouts Sam flees to find Suzy whom he met a year earlier. Soon after Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) work to track down the children, while the children embark on their own adventure.
Within the last few years Anderson has created worlds that stretch the imagination, and make the audience part of this surreal place. In this film Anderson takes us to an island in 1965, where they two children, their families, and the other characters seem to be part of world that does not even exist, as if this were a fantasy. Anderson along with fellow screenwriter Roman Coppola never take things to a level that feels phony or Burtonesque. Anderson's directions helps ground this fantastically witty dialogue that helps keeps this film weather the storm of becoming more than he can handle.
One of the bravest things he does is use two younger stars who have never been in a major film to carry the entire story. Gilman and Hayward are two of the most talented young people I have seen on screen in years. They are raw, and vulnerable. I was lost in their performances and felt as though I wanted to watch them on screen forever. I do not know if you can say that two twelve years olds can have chemistry, but this film uses the concept of young love so well that it's impossible to deny. Anderson seems to have poured his heart and soul into this film declaring that children can act nonsensical, so can adults. Wes Anderson's parents divorced while he was at a young age and you can't help but wonder if some of his own emotional weight is set in these two young performers, and the struggle they go through with being different, and finding one another.
With that said Anderson does an incredible job making the children the center focus of the story while creating interesting and complex supporting characters out of the major stars. Murray and McDormand are great are Suzy's parents, and they add their brilliant comic flare. Norton rarely gets to flex his comedic chops, which is a shame because he is a talented actor who can do it all, and I love watching him take his role as Troop Leader 55 so seriously. I was struck most by Bruce Willis; he hit this role out of the park, and has done some of the best acting I have ever seen him do, his raw emotion mixed with great wit is terrific in this film. Then there were the great small roles for the flawless Tilda Swinton, the straight man Harvey Keitel, and the incredible Jason Schwartzman who always shines in his films.
The movie is a breath of fresh air in a Summer filled with films that have tried too hard. In all context Moonrise Kingdom is a great film, which made me, smile, laugh, and nostalgic for the simplistic nature of older films that know how to be genuine. This film used cinematography and editing the capture the nature of classical film structure, not as a gimmick, but to fit within the context of the film. Today films as stuck on gimmicks, but Anderson knows better, and that's what makes this film stand above the rest.