Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson Strikes Again

By: Christopher O’Brien

Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, is the best movie I’ve seen all year.

First of all, this is Wes Anderson:

Look familiar? Maybe not. He’s the director behind:

Anderson also did Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited and his debut film Bottle Rocket. The casts of his movies usually include the otherwise rarely seen Bill Murray, his former college roommate Owen Wilson, and his long time friend Jason Schwartzman. He brings big names into his films the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, William Dafoe, Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Ben Stiller, and Adrian Brody; just to name a few.

Within the first ten seconds of any Wes Anderson film you can tell you’re watching something different. It’s a different pace, different colors, different camerawork than we’re used to. The dialogue moves fast, actors hardly smile, the awkwardness between characters is ratcheted up.

His movies are incredibly funny, but I wouldn’t label them as comedies. The subject matter is often serious; with a focus on being an outsider in your own family, or society, and has used suicidal characters, depressed characters, misfits, violent characters in main roles.

But these aren’t dramas. They’re not dramadies, they’re neither too light nor too solemn. They’re artsy films, but accessible to almost anyone.

The only description that works is, “That’s a Wes Anderson movie.”

The newest Wes Anderson movie is Moonrise Kingdom. Right now it’s only showing in a handful of cities around the United States, one of which being Royal Oak, Michigan. I was lucky enough to be in Detroit this last weekend and was able to drive over for the 7 p.m. showing.

If you look at the movie poster, you see the big names listed at the top. Bill Murray. Bruce Willis. Edward Norton. Tilda Swinton. Most directors would kill to have one of these actors, let alone all four. Moonrise Kingdom also has Academy Award winning actress Francis McDormand (think the lady in Fargo) and the underrated Jason Schwartzman.

Here’s one of the ways Wes Anderson differs as a director/producer: he can bring in all these superstars and cast them as supporting characters. The stars he chose for this film are first time movie actors Kara Hayward (age 12) and Jared Gilman (age 12). Huge risk! He gives either one of them or both together at least half of the run time, if not two-thirds, on screen.

The characters they play are Sam and Suzy. Sam is an orphan and a member of the khaki scouts (think boy scouts) and Suzy is one of Bill Murray and Francis McDormand’s four children, the only girl. Sam spots Suzy dressed up as a raven in the local church’s performance of Noah’s Ark and approaches her backstage. She gives him her address and they begin sending letters to each other, eventually coming up with a getaway plan.

When they finally do run off together, chaos breaks out both in the khaki scout camp and in Suzy’s household. Sam’s foster parents decide, in an oddly hilarious scene, that they don’t want their foster son back even if he is found. Bruce Willis is the lonely cop who is having an affair with Suzy’s mother, Edward Norton is this particular khaki scouts group leader.

In terms of the characters, no one is particularly great at what they do. In terms of the acting, all the adults do a great job, particularly Bruce Willis who should be considered for award honors for his take at kind of the exact opposite version of Die Hard police officer John McClane.

Anymore plot will spoil the experience so I’ll stop there and let you be surprised and entranced the same way I was.

What’s amazing about this film is the combination of other seemingly unrelated film and literary experiences. The scenes when Wes Anderson would show Suzy’s view through the binoculars felt like an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window with James Stewart. I was also reminded of Hitchcock’s Vertigo during the dramatic steeple climbing chase at the end of the movie. 

The island setting paired with the wildness and attitude of all the 12-year-old khaki scouts was reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. The perfect capture of childhood love between Sam and Suzy took me back to Bridge to Terabithia (book, not the weird movie version) with maybe a slight splash of Romeo and Juliet. One of the scenes toward the end of the movie with the kids up in the treehouse felt a lot like the, “You’re killin’ me smalls!” scene in Sandlot.

But the most skilled scene of the movie takes place on a beach coined by Sam and Suzy as Moonrise Kingdom. It was an inherently difficult scene to film because Sam and Suzy have both just hopped out of the water. Suzy is in her underwear, Sam too, but with an unbuttoned shirt on. Remember, these are 12-year-old actors playing the 12-year-old characters. He has the two start dancing, separate at first, then recreates everyone’s awkward first sixth grader dance with their first crush.

The two kiss. Suzy asks if he knows how to french kiss. They experiment with this. She says he can touch her breast. He awkwardly puts his hand on one breast. She deadpans the hilarious line, “I think they’ll get bigger.” He puts his hand on her other breast. Somewhere in the exchange they hug, she says he feels hard, he apologizes, she says, “No, I like it.”

Reading that paragraph was probably cringeworthy. There are thousands of directors who could not have pulled this scene off and probably hundreds of thousands more who would dare ever attempt it. But somehow Wes Anderson handles it perfectly. It’s not two horny teenagers ready to have sex, it’s two kids who are experiencing their first big person emotion and are trying to innocently carry out the physical moves that big people do.

When the movie ended, everyone in the theater spontaneously started clapping as if the actors were going to pop out from behind the screen and run on stage. More than half the audience stayed put in their seats for the entire credits.

This wasn’t the way people stay for the credits after a Marvel super-hero movie. There was no surprise cliffhanger to look forward to, no preview to who the next villain would be. No, you got the sense that everybody left in the theater wanted to hold on and stay just a bit longer in this fantasy world.

Wes Anderson usually takes two or three years to make a new movie, but if all his hard work continues to produce movies like this, it’ll always be worth the wait.

Check out the trailer here.

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