There is very little middle ground when it comes to the work of Wes Anderson; you either love his films or hate them but very few people ever say they feel indifferent about his work. For the last sixteen years Anderson entertained or infuriated audiences with his quirky brand of humor. All of Anderson’s films are cut from the same cloth but he weaves them all into uniquely different films and Moonrise Kingdom is no exception.
Sam escapes his Khaki Scout camp to meet up with a local girl named Suzy and they embark on an adventure across an isolated East Coast island in the summer of 1965. Their disappearances cause uproar as the local sheriff, the Khaki Scout Master and his remaining scouts, and the girl’s parents set out on a desperate search to find them.
Moonrise Kingdom is distinctly Wes Anderson; it is brilliantly funny, tragically morose, and extremely satisfying. It feels fresh thanks to a script that explores themes that haven’t been touched on in many of his more recent films. Because the main stars of Moonrise Kingdom are children instead of adults the focus of the film isn’t their fall from grace but is instead about redemption and fulfilling your dreams. This differs from many of Anderson’s signature films such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic. In particular, Moonrise Kingdom feels like an extension of the idea briefly touched upon in The Royal Tenebaums when young Margot and Richie (played as adults by Gwyneth Paltrow & Luke Wilson) run off together to camp in the African Wing of the City Public Archives.
Much like Rushmore introduced audiences to Jason Schwartzman, Moonrise Kingdom brings two newcomers to the screen in the form of Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy. It’s refreshing to see two young actors that can naturally carry a film on their still growing shoulders. Both Sam and Suzy are flawed, misunderstood characters that form a close bond supported by budding young love. It’s handled in a completely bizarre and unrealistic fashion that nevertheless feels completely believable in a Wes Anderson created universe. It’s interesting that two young and inexperienced actors can carry an endearing love story more convincingly than many actors that are much older and more experienced.
Fewer frequent acting collaborates are featured in Moonrise Kingdom versus the typical Wes Anderson film. Rushmore stars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray have roles that range from bit part to legitimate co-star but the rest of the main cast are newcomers to the Anderson world. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Bob Balaban, all make their first Wes Anderson debut but all feel at home in the Moonrise Kingdom world. The fresh faces really aided in giving this film an identity that is completely its own; without the subconscious “He was in _____ & _____” going on Moonrise Kingdom feels familiar but not worn out.
Another drastic but welcomed departure for Anderson is in regard to his filming technique. Moonrise Kingdom was shot entirely on 16mm film as opposed to 35mm or digital and is Anderson’s first film since Bottle Rocket to be shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Changing aspect ratios will probably go unnoticed by most but shooting with 16mm gives Moonrise Kingdom a very unique vintage feel even though the audience might not know what caused it. 16mm is a highly adaptable film that is experiencing a renaissance of sorts (The Walking Dead for instance is shot on 16mm) and with the proper digital manipulation can be adjusted to fit any number of different needs; in the case of Moonrise Kingdom it fittingly brings to mind a 1960s nature documentary.
Wes Anderson co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom with Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford Coppola); they had previously co-written The Darjeeling Limited together. Admittedly, I believe that Anderson’s best films were co-written by Owen Wilson (this being the first film for which he has no involvement in) but nevertheless the script for the most part is sublime. The third act loses a little bit speed as the film starts careening out of control but Anderson and Coppola are still able to reel the film back in for a satisfying conclusion.
Moonrise Kingdom is a very quirky yet touching film with a wonderfully uplifting message. The writing and direction is strong and cast’s performances are imaginative and sincere. It’s a rare occurrence to find a film with even one decent performance by a child and it’s even rarer to find an entire cast filled with young actors that can deliver believably funny performances but still be heartfelt. Moonrise Kingdom won’t dethrone my two favorite Wes Anderson films but it comes in at a very respectable third place behind The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore which isn’t bad company to keep under any circumstances.