Wes Anderson doesn’t work for everybody and his style is unmistakable, but Moonrise Kingdom sees some of the largest departures from his formula to date. Whether that will attract some new audience members is yet to be seen, but this little adventure tale around first love will surely connect in ways that many of Anderson’s other works can’t for many people. It is hard for some to relate to a pompous oceanographer, a depressed family of geniuses, or well to do brothers who have all lost their way, but young love is a much easier pill to swallow. Anderson doesn’t hold back from making this one of the oddest and silly romances yet to be put in any of his films, and that is so over the top crazy you can’t help but laugh.
Sam and Suzy are both outcasts that are looking for companionship and are willing to run off on nothing more than a brief encounter and a yearlong pen pal relationship. Sam’s an orphan, Suzy wishes she was, and when they go missing a search of their island community is commenced by their loved ones and guardians.
I mentioned some departures for Anderson earlier and there are more than a few of them. Like I said, this is clearly still a Wes Anderson film from the very first frame, but he certainly seems to be trying something different throughout. Gone is the Futura font, no Rolling Stones, he has actual character close ups instead of everything being a two, three, or four shot (though still plenty of those), only two returning actors populate the cast, and as a whole his camera is far more intimate than it ever has been before. This makes sense given the relationship we are looking at, the intimate bonding between Suzy and Sam, and the rediscovery of family that is a constant theme throughout Anderson’s works is heightened by this choice. Still, these departures aren’t a negative in any sense of the word, it’s just different. It is exciting to see him continue to try something new, and between Moonrise and Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson seems really engaged with experimenting with new ways to bring his stories to life. Anderson especially has mastered the long take/tracking shot that works marvelously time and time again over the course of the film. He even gives us a few more diorama style shots that are his best since The Life Aquatic. My only complaint would be that the soundtrack for the film might be least favorite in Anderson’s filmography to date; it’s pleasant but we have heard better from him, Desplat, and his music supervisors in the past.
Outside the Anderson Players of Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman the cast is populated by a lot of new faces to his universe and all of them fit right in. Sam and Suzy are played wonderfully by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, with both gleaning that bit of craziness everyone around them is talking about while being entirely relatable all the same. The two have an odd chemistry and do a wonderful job at delivering some great adult-like dialogue from Anderson. Gilman carries himself with a sense of confidence and earnestness that is hilarious to watch as he tries to impress Suzy. Hayward on the other hand really shines through when Suzy goes berserk. Bruce Willis is also wonderful as the quiet and sad sheriff of the island and it is fun to see him go so far against type here. I don’t know if Willis has ever played a character that is so soft spoken and his arc over the film is incredibly sweet and heroic. Edward Norton also gets a lot of moments to shine as the Scout Master of Sam’s troop of Khakis. He isn’t the greatest leader at the start, but he gets a chance to grow over the course of the film and when he gets that moment to shine it is one of the funnier moments of the film. Tilda Swinton storms onto the scene and is excellent in her brief role as Social Services, same goes for Schwartzman who is delightfully slimy as a fast talking Khaki. Harvey Keitel and Bob Balaban also deliver some great moments in their short stints on the screen, Balaban in particular I wish we got more of. Speaking of the Khakis, Anderson assembled a fun group of kids to fill out the ranks as they provide excellent foils/companions for Suzy and Sam. Sadly Frances McDormand and Bill Murray get about the least amount to do over the course of the film, but as expected from talents like these two, neither one of them proves to be a weak link.
Moonrise Kingdom is by no means a more mainstream work from Wes Anderson, but it might be more digestible work from the eccentric director. As a lover of Anderson, I was mostly in heaven here and was smiling ear to ear throughout the run time. Sam and Suzy are a delightful pair of heroes and the film captures the awkwardness of falling love no matter what age you are. A real treat for the summer season, Moonrise Kingdom is going to be high in the running for one of my favorite films of the year (surprising no one).
Moonrise Kingdom is an A-