Moonrise Kingdom is the Wes Anderson film I've always dreamed about. It's the film I've always believed Anderson to be capable of, but with the exception of Rushmore and pieces of The Royal Tenenbaums, he's always fallen just a bit short. While I've never actually disliked a Wes Anderson film, I've often left the theater after one of his films thinking, "So close, but not quite."
I'll let you in on one of my film criticism traditions. When I really love or admire a film, I'll often find myself returning to the theater to watch it once again. As a film critic, I see the vast majority of films I review for free. When a film really blows me away, I find myself actually wanting to financially support the filmmaker who created it. I actually "want" to pay to see it.
I went back to the theater to see Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, a film so sublime and magical that I find myself actually craving a return to Anderson's dreamlike and heartfelt world.
That's right. Heartfelt. It's not always required in a film. None other than the Coen Brothers have proven time and again that you can create a cinematic masterpiece without emotional resonance. Yet, for Anderson, the absence of emotional resonance has always felt like a missing piece in his filmmaking puzzle. At times, Anderson's films have felt like repressed works of wonder that are beautiful to behold but impossible to touch.
Moonrise Kingdom is a film that envelopes you like a warm blanket, cold winter's night yet still manages to maintain everything we've come to know and love about Wes Anderson – the masterful cinematography, the wondrously quirky characters, the off-kilter hipness and the humor so intelligent it'll fly right over the heads of a good majority of the audience.
Man, I want to go back to the theater. Right now.
The film takes place in 1965. Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) are two twelve-year-olds who meet, write glorious letters (remember those?) and who fall in love in the way that only twelve-year-olds on the cusp of sexuality and a realization of bigger and better things in life. The two make plans to escape for a summer getaway to a remote area within their New England isle setting of New Penzance. To make it all happen, Suzy escapes from her family of three younger brothers and the kind of melancholic parents (Bruce Willis and Frances McDormand) that one expects Wes Anderson to create. Sam, on the other hand, is a young boy residing in foster care who must escape from a scouting camp despite the watchful eye of the scoutmaster (Edward Norton) and a collective of fellow scouts who at first seem anxious to practice their more aggressive scouting skills but who eventually grow into more sympathetic young men. The search party will include all of these people plus the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) and, at least eventually, a local social services worker (Tilda Swinton).
What unfolds in Moonrise Kingdom is transcendent, the perfect intertwining of Anderson's impeccable visual design and a sort of affectionate quirkiness that makes you both laugh at and truly adore these characters. While it's set in a different era, there's simply no doubt that this was the tone Rob Reiner was aiming for when he created his young love debacle Flipped, a film that was beautiful to watch but disappointing in virtually every other way. Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, gets the tone absolutely right with a convincing conviction of innocence, wonder, fumbling maturity and absolute beauty.
Again, Moonrise Kingdom is absolutely sublime.
There isn't a weak link among the bunch here, with Anderson clearly able to communicate his artistic vision and everyone in this outstanding cast surrendering to it. Despite being surrounded by an extraordinary cast of gifted adult actors, Moonrise Kingdom belongs to the young Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, as it should. The two are refreshingly authentic and completely lacking in the pretentiousness that we've come to expect from these "young love" films. Even in Anderson's dreamlike creation of a world, it's nearly impossible to not buy into this version of young love presented by Gilman and Hayward because they present it with such heart and conviction and honesty.
Among the adult players, Bruce Willis is most impressive while Edward Norton is almost revelatory in a role that is far less tainted than anything he has played in quite some time. While these two are the stand-outs, there isn't a weakness here as Anderson has surrounded himself and his film with actors and actresses who clearly understand his unique and visionary artistic process.
Moonrise Kingdom is a realistic story set in what could, perhaps, be called an unrealistic world. Anderson paints the film in dreamlike strokes while filling it with characters who are simply oozing with life and humanity and brilliance and sadness. In fact, more than once I found myself muttering that this feeling, this sense of wonder and awesomeness is precisely what was missing from Lars Von Trier's underrated gem from last year, Melancholia. There is melancholia to be found in Moonrise Kingdom, but it's a comfortable melancholia borne out of life experiences and journeys hard fought.
What else can I say? I loved this film.
It's hard to imagine another film capturing my heart and soul like Moonrise Kingdom.