Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton
Though I am a fan of the look of Wes Anderson’s live-action films, I am not a fan of their stories–Royal Tenenbaums the exception. Moonrise Kingdom will also be an exception. It is a modern fairy tale set in the 60s, and the time & setting work to Anderson’s strengths–perfectly constructed and choreographed worlds.
The story begins with multiple tracking shots through Suzy’s (Kara Haywood) house on the island of New Penzance. The feel of the shot is similar to looking through the backend of a doll house where all the rooms face the front. We quickly learn Suzy comes from a family that believes in education & culture, has three younger brothers, has parents that are possibly having issues, and she has issues as well–always with her binoculars and always looking for something.
Next, we don’t meet Sam (Jared Gilman). It’s morning at Camp Ivanhoe of the Khaki Scouts. As Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) walks-thru the camp during the morning ritual he performs spot inspections, minor disciplinary actions, and settles for the morning breakfast with the troop. At breakfast he learns Sam is missing by his empty chair. He and the troop head to Sam’s tent and enter. Perplexed by how the tent could be empty because the zipper was closed from the inside, he soon finds a hole cut through the tent behind a map of the island. Scout Master Ward then calls the Sheriff, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), to tell him about the missing scout. Later Sam & Suzy meet in a meadow and continue their journey together on the island.
That night during dinner at Suzy’s house, her mother Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) is told by one of her sons Suzy is missing and has run-off. After telling her husband Walt (Bill Murray) they are visited by Captain Sharp in his search for Sam. Quickly Laura discovers both children are together when she finds a collection of letters & water colors detailing their relationship and plan to get together. What follows is a journey of young love, tired adults trying to find purpose and do what is right, and the challenge of keeping Sam away from the hands of the Social Services (Tilda Swinton).
This is easily the most identifiable and relatable of Wes Anderson’s films. Though the world is idealized and you know it will have a happy ending, you can connect with each of the characters and where they are coming from. All the main adult characters are well-developed, and also take their journeys as they search for Sam & Suzy. Captain Sharp realizes the loneliness & monotony of his life and does something about. The fastidious & meek Scout Master Ward gains confidence and takes charge during a crisis. Laura & Walt know something has to change in their marriage for better or worse before it leaves them hollow inside.
But most important this is about Sam & Suzy finding each other and who they are. Too young to have the happily ever after ending of most fairy tales we have been accustomed to, we know the kids will be all right. More importantly, we know that Sam & Suzy are what they need for each other now but not necessarily forever.
The acting across the board is solid. The success of the film rests solidly on the shoulders of Gilman & Haywood, and they deliver. Their interactions together are sweet, endearing, and genuine. These are two kids discovering romance with all the awkwardness and lack of self-consciousness that entails. Gilman & Haywood also have a great chemistry together, and come across as two people who honestly care for each other.
The look and the feel of the movie is reminiscent of old sun washed-out photos. The exterior scenes are over saturated and have a yellow tint. The feel is like you what you visualize when your eyes are closed telling about your first kiss at summer camp.
Grade = A