Review: Moonrise Kingdom


Moonrise Kingdom

I don't want to gush. It's off-putting. But even though it's two weeks since I've seen Moonrise Kingdom, I keep wanting to start this review with excessively silly phrases like "lovely, lovely, lovely" and "so beautiful" and "I want to see it again right now now now." This repeating of one word is not my writing style at all. I also don't like to talk publicly about press screenings before the movie is released (it feels impolite), but my Twitter feed includes the admittedly fatuous "oh yes oh Wes oh yes yes yes" posted about an hour after the screening ended. I mean, honestly.

I've made my feelings clear about Wes Anderson's latest film. I could stop here, but the movie deserves an actual review that does not consist of a schoolgirl's idea of sexual banter. I'll do my best.

The story, set in 1963, centers around two barely-teenagers: Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), who lives with her family on the remote island of Penzance, reads lots of young-adult fantasy-adventure novels and views the world through binoculars; and Sam (Jared Gilman), an extremely resourceful member of a scout troop camping nearby. Having met under strange circumstances, they instantly feel they're kindred spirits and plan a scheme to escape from their stifling situations.

That is a very straightforward description of a plot that zips back and forth in time and includes many other characters and their own intrigues. Suzy's mother Laura (Frances McDormand) does seem to run into Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis, seemingly disguised as George Smiley) a great deal. Suzy's dad (Bill Murray, natch) has his own troubles. And then there's Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton), whose shipshape camp environment has been thwarted by Sam's departure.

Jason Schwartzmann, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel also have brief but memorable roles that I will let you discover for yourselves. And Bob Balaban, wearing a green version of Bill Murray's cap from The Life Aquatic (as well as the same beard), serves as a sort of narrator and Penzance historian.

Within all of this excitement about the dialogue style and the clothes and a really adorable cat, however, I sense a whiff (at least) of infatuation regarding Moonrise Kingdom. I was already primed to enjoy this movie because I'm fond of Anderson's other films, The Royal Tenenbaums probably being my favorite. In addition, I'm a fan of vintage young-adult fantasy-adventure novels so I was especially sympathetic to Suzy, and kept hoping one of her books would be authored by E. Nesbit or starring Judy Bolton. Turns out all her novels were invented by the filmmakers, but now I want to read those too.

I grinned at the very trademark-Anderson opening shot of an embroidered wall hanging. I made little "ooh ooh" noises and bounced in my seat at the opening scenes with the music and the way the house was shot and the E. Nesbit-like children in the same way, for example, that a Star Trek fan might wriggle happily in his or her seat at a new movie or show opening with Leonard Nimoy intoning "Space: The final frontier ..." (My husband informs me that the speech in question is always voiced by the captain at the beginning of anything Trek, but you know what I meant, dude.)

So I worry that perhaps I only like this movie because I wanted to like this movie, but if that were the case, two weeks later I would be picking apart plot elements and feeling slightly empty and let down, the sugar rush of the filmmaker's distinctive style having worn off, like I felt the day after I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But that's not the case. I saw a trailer for Moonrise Kingdom before another movie this weekend and I was bouncing around in my seat again, well, just a bit.

I did feel the second half of Moonrise Kingdom meandered a little more than I would like, taking a long time to reach its destination, with at least one ridiculous plot twist too many. I wanted to see more of Frances McDormand's character, and Bill Murray's character felt relatively weakly written. And the very last shot made me cry, which is always annoying at a press screening because the lights go up quickly and I don't want my colleagues to see me being a big baby. I have to dig around in my purse for a bit pretending to look for my keys.

But in the end it is the crazy-first-young-love relationship between Sam and Suzy that carries the film, that takes it past all the delightful-or-irritating quirks of the filmmaker and the dithering of the adult characters and the adventures of the other chidren and Bob Balaban appearing out of nowhere in his little cap and gloves. And that is what makes Moonrise Kingdom such a memorable and lasting film, that central relationship and the turns it takes throughout the movie. And that, not the music or the camerawork or some very funny dialogue, is why I am reduced to repeating cliched words in an inarticulate fashion inappropriate for an experienced writer.