Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman. Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Directed by Roman Coppola.
Remember when you could fall in love and get married all in the same day? When you could run away from your life and return whenever you wanted to with only a scolding? When a little spot in the woods could be your own private domain of adventure? Wes Anderson certainly does, and he commits it to the screen with near-perfect grace in his new film Moonrise Kingdom. Pivoting on that moment when adulthood is just near enough to start breaching the walls of childhood's magical simplicity, Anderson captures not only the adventure and romance of youth, but its underlying pain and confusion as well.
Set in 1965, Moonrise's children on the cusp are capable Khaki Scout Sam (Gilman) and scowling sophisticate Suzy. Through a series of letters, the two 12-year-olds fall in love and orchestrate a plan to run away together, setting up camp on a remote stretch of beach. Their disappearance causes almost immediate alarm in their small town. The town sheriff (Willis) soon alerts Suzy's strict lawyer parents (McDormand and Murray); meanwhile, the local Khaki Scout leader (Norton) musters his young troops for the search. Sam, it turns out, is an orphan who's been through a string of foster homes. And when Social Services (Swinton) joins the hunt for the youngsters, their paradise is put in even greater jeopardy.
One of the keys to Anderson's success here is that he handles all the characters humorously, but never mockingly or cartoonishly. Norton's scout leader seems an uptight authority figure at first, but Anderson gives him dimension and humanity. McDormand and Murray may be rather stifling as parents, but Anderson fleshes them out too, humanizing them as he shows us the root of their stress and worry. Same goes for the kids; although their precocious attempts at adulthood are amusing, Anderson treats them with the emotional complexity they deserve.
And the cast nails this excellent material, allowing comedy to arise from the characters' sincerity. Willis, McDormand, Murray, Schwartzman and Swinton all bring great charm and surprising depth to their limited roles. And newcomers Gilman and Hayward are perfect for their roles, endearing, funny and smart.
Anderson captures it all with a warm visual whimsy and his regular masterful use of color. His camera moves through the rooms of a home like a dollhouse at the beginning, jumps from boy to boy as a group of Khaki Scouts argue and rides in the front of a canoe for a POV shot as Sam paddles downstream. The movie is rich with unique visual energy in every way.
It all adds up to a film that I can only describe as truly transporting. I too often find myself picking a film apart, analyzing and critcizing as I watch it. I couldn't have done so with Moonrise Kingdom even if I tried–and I didn't think to, because within moments of the film's opening scenes, I was already swept off into its remarkable world with a big smile on my face. It's not often that you come upon a film–or any work of art–that portrays life so honestly, with sentiment and beauty, but also without sugarcoating the matter. Moonrise Kingdom is just such a film–vibrant, fun, gorgeous, life-affirming and a little sad. And it'll take you back to those magical days past, even if only for an hour and a half. —Patrick Dunn
Opens 6/15 at the Main Art Theatre.