“Jiminey Cricket, he flew the coop!”
-Scout Master Ward
Over the course of the last decade writer/director/producer Wes Anderson has successfully carved out a very successful little niche for himself in the fused genre of dramedy. Anderson has a very distinct style with his dry(but not British dry) humor, quirky characters, and very stylized settings. Moonrise Kingdom is his latest film which he takes on a childhood romance set in the 1960s on an island somewhere in New England. Does this movie deliver on the laughs, or does Anderson’s style get in the way of this seemingly simple take on a child romance?
Moonrise Kingdom is a story about an orphan in 1960s New England named Sam Shakusky(Jared Gilman) who runs away from his Khaki scout camp to meet with who he believes is the love of his life, Suzy Bishop(Kara Hayward). As soon as Scout Master Ward(Edward Norton) discovers one of his scouts is missing he calls Police Captain Sharp(Bruce Willis) to send out a search party. Eventually Suzy’s parents Walt(Bill Murray) and Laura(Frances McDormand) discover that their daughter is also missing and it isn’t long before Captain Sharp is able to put two and two together. Meanwhile Suzy and Sam are trying to flee from everyone and live alone together on a beach.
The story in this movie is a very simple love story between two children and the movie makes this relationship the centerpiece of the movie. This is not a plot driven film, but a character driven one as what makes this movie go is the character interaction. The setting of the movie is really the standout feature in terms of narrative as Wes Anderson really plays up the 1960s New England feel of the movie. This movie looks and feels like a throwback to a different era of history by presenting a setting that is not as things were, but as how an adult might look back and remember it. The story is very simple, but serves its purpose.
As I already mentioned, it is the characters that drive this story and the character work in this movie is really great. First off I would love to say kudos to the two leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward who are able to play such young children so very well. Despite the fact that they are children, they are portrayed very realistically which is to say flawed. As I have stated many times in previous reviews; it is so very rare that children are portrayed realistically or with any amount of depth. This movie portrays its lead characters with depth by showing the audience that despite their innocence as children, they are still very flawed, and they still struggle to understand the world they live in. There is some great(if not a bit odd) chemistry between Suzy and Sam that is very rare in most films I get to see. They really don’t understand love or any of the implications, but they know that they do love each other. Like other Wes Anderson movies; all of the characters are portrayed as quirky and flawed, but what is nice is that these quirks are not portrayed as necessarily negative, but more or less what makes individuals who they are. This rings just as true with the adult characters as it does with the kids. The supporting cast is top notch with Edward Norton nearly stealing the show as Scout Master Ward who is a well intentioned leader, but is also completely oblivious to what the people around him are thinking or doing. This puts him in some particularly awkward positions which makes the movie that much more entertaining to watch. Bruce Willis also does a commendable job as the Police Captain who just wants to fix everything even at the sacrifice of his own happiness. The characters are what drive the story and the humor in the movie as each of these quirky individuals push each other to change and grow by the time the film is over; adults included.
The direction to this movie is absolutely key. Wes Anderson is the mastermind behind this movie as his style is written all over every scene beginning with the opening credits and ending with the final shot of the film. The writing, cinematography, and story all scream Anderson’s dry, intelligent, and quirky style that he is known for. I personally think this style is very enjoyable and rare in an industry where family movies are becoming either overly edgy or overly simple. This movie is designed (by Anderson) to be a movie for families to see(I’m still scratching my head as to why this is PG-13), but does not dumb itself down for children or cater too much to adults. Anderson created what is essentially a very sophisticated family movie that is a throwback to 1960s New England. The entire movie feels seems like a happy memory of an adult who once lived through such events as the edgier happenings of the film are turned into punchlines to jokes and all of the characters including the ones who make terrible mistakes are portrayed as sympathetic but not angsty. I applaud Anderson for crafting a movie as intelligent as this without sacrificing the humor(this movie is hilarious) or the human connection. The movie feels warm and genuine while also being very smart. If you do not generally care for Anderon’s style then this movie absolutely will not change your mind.
Overall Moonrise is a terrific Wes Anderson movie that manages to be intelligent, funny, and full of quirks all at the same time. It is a great movie to take your family to see as it has enough humor and young characters to keep kids interested, but also manages to be very sophisticated and unique in its storytelling, characters, and direction. The movie is a character driven story with a cast of likable, quirky, and memorable characters that are well portrayed with Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis being the standouts. The style of the movie will please Wes Anderson fans, but for those of you who have found that you do not like his movies, Moonrise Kingdom will not change your mind. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who takes film seriously, but also to families looking for a movie that can please everyone. This is easily the best piece of family friendly(and pleasing) entertainment I’ve seen this year.
The story is very simple; almost too simple, but the setting of the New England during the 1960s is really what makes this tale shine. The story feels like a nostalgia trip or a memory that the narrator is reminiscing about. The only real fault I can find in the story is that it is so simple that it is predicatable.
The children are portrayed very realistically as innocent, but still flawed individuals that don’t understand the world they are living in. The entire main cast, adults included are very funny with their quirks and problems. Most of them actually have developments throughout the movie and by the end of the movie they have all grown in one way or the other. The child actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are terrific leads in their first film while Edward Norton and Bruce Willis turn in commendable performances among the adult cast.
Wes Anderson delivers a movie that is completely saturated in his dry, quirky, and intelligent humor. He delivers well rounded characters, some great humor, and a cinematic style that manages to mesh his personal tastes with a style common in the 1960s. Cinematography, writing, tone are all outstanding in this family friendly dramedy that is far more sophisticated than nearly any other family flick out there.
Overall Effectiveness of the Movie: 9.0
This movie delivers on pretty much anything you would expect from a family movie made by Anderson. The movie is able to hit a pitch perfect balance between comedy and drama with plenty of jokes, but never so much that you stop caring about what happens to the characters in the film. The movie succeeds at being a sophisticated film for families.
Overall Score: 9.0