Sunday, February 17, 2013

Movie – Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

In my recent review of Django Unchained I wrote that I’m not a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films and that while I’ve liked most every one I’ve seen (2007’s Death Proof being a big exception), I’ve never loved them quite as much as many others have.  I have almost exactly the same regard for Wes Anderson’s films – like, but not love.  And just as with Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I found Anderson’s latest film Moonrise Kingdom to be my favorite of the movies he has done so far.  It has an engaging story of young love and rebellion, but with events shown from the perspective of adults, too.  This film will likely end up in my Top 10 of 2012.

Moonrise Kingdom is set in the 1960s on an island off the coast of New England.  It is summer and there is a camp on the island where boys are learning about nature and scouting under the leadership of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).  Also on the island are a lighthouse keeper (Bill Murray), his wife (Frances McDormand), and their children.  The island also has a chief of police (Bruce Willis).  Just off the island is a larger scouting camp led by Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel) and on the mainland is a woman identified only as “Social Services” (Tilda Swinton).  Jason Schwartzman makes a small appearance as Cousin Ben and Bob Balaban appears as a meteorologist/Greek Chorus.

The stars of the film, though, are the 12 year olds Sam (Jared Gilman), a scout in the island’s camp, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), the oldest daughter of the lighthouse keepers.  This is the first film role for both of them, and both do quite a good job.  Sam makes a Shawshank-like escape from the scout camp and travels across the island to meet Suzy, who has run away from home carrying a heavy suitcase filled with books, records, and a record player.  The two had met the summer before and fallen in love at first sight.  They exchanged letters over the next year, eventually planning their adventure with each other.

Naturally Sam’s scout master, Suzy’s parents, and even the police captain join in the search for the two of them.  They know they can’t really leave the island, but a large storm is going to be hitting the island in a couple of days and there is a sense of urgency to find the two before it hits.

Meanwhile Sam and Suzy reach a pretty cove and camp there for the night.  They swim, talk, read books, and he paints her reclining on the beach.  (Some troublemakers have tried to scream “child pornography” at these scenes, which only serves to illustrate just how out of touch with reality some people are.)  All the scenes with the adolescents are of the innocent love kind, like 1979’s A Little Romance, which is also about adolescents experiencing first love and running off together.  If you haven’t seen it, it is a cute film.  It stars Diane Lane in her first feature film role.  Only time will tell if Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman enjoy similarly successful careers.

There are a lot more subplots going on in the film with the scout master, the police captain and lighthouse keeper’s wife, with the other scouts, and with Social Services.  I won’t try to describe them, except to say that all add to the overall nature of the film.

Moonrise Kingdom received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Wes Anderson (who also directed) and Roman Coppola.  It would probably be my pick from among the five nominees, but I don’t think it will win based on the bigger films it is up against.  I believe this falls into the “honor to be nominated” camp.

I heard one self-professed Wes Anderson lover say that he hated Moonrise Kingdom and that “only people who hate Anderson’s other films would ever like Moonrise Kingdom.”  The implication is that this latest film is a “sellout” from Anderson, rather than a piece of art to be placed on a pedestal like his earlier films.  I don’t agree with this person.  Moonrise Kingdom has many of the elements present in all of Anderson’s films; it is just contained within an appealing story about first love.

Don’t worry if you have never seen any other film from Anderson; Moonrise Kingdom is self contained.  Just keep an open mind about certain things being just a little skewed from reality, but not completely over into the realm of fantasy.  Unless this sounds like something you would hate, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Glad you liked this one. I actually had it as my #1 film of the year. I think I would agree that this is not some sort of sell out Wes Anderson film. I do however think it may be his most approachable film. I hope this wins best original screenplay... but i doubt it.

    1. "I do however think it may be his most approachable film."

      I completely agree. I can also understand this being your number one film.

  2. Great review Chip. It's a lovely little film that actually has more heart, than quirk, and that's saying a hell of a lot for a movie from Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.