The year is 1965. Suzy and Sam are in love. They live on an island off the coast of New England. Love in adversity. Love against the odds. Suzy and Sam are twelve years old and together, they run away.
There’s a lot of expectation riding on this film. I’ll admit I was worried. Wes Anderson has made some incredible films and it’s a high benchmark to reach. But Moonrise Kingdom put all my worries to rest. It’s charming, beautifully shot and exceedingly funny.
Set in the ’60s, there’s a glow of love for the retro – the palette, the portable record player, the absurd scout uniforms. The pace is balanced and the character development understated. Little back story is given, usually in sharp bursts of hand-written letters. We meet the characters intent on their mission to hike an ancient trail. Sam is the all-prepared scout (rope, canvas, compass) and Suzy, the ill-prepared love of his life (Sunday school shoes, book-filled suitcase, kitten).
Co-written with Roman Coppola, the script is witty and astute. Suzy’s dysfunctional family operate around a mother (Frances McDormand) who uses a megaphone in the house and a father (Bill Murray) who chops wood aided by red wine. We witness complications through Suzy’s binoculars and a local meteorologist keeps us posted on the incoming storm. Between scout-battles and adult squabbles, the lovers’ hike across the island and their quest to stay together becomes more and more precarious.
In a star-laden cast, newcomers to Anderson’s films Ed Norton and Bruce Willis give touching and sensitive performances as scout camp master and police captain respectively. Both Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) are outstanding. They look comfortable on camera but manage the awkward timing of Anderson’s style. Both are engaging screen presences who give truth to a wonderful story.
Despite the occasional less-than-special effects, this film meets the high standard of Anderson’s previous acclaimed films. The resolute protagonists of Moonrise Kingdom provide a purpose unlike the emotionally lost brothers of The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and the regretful Steve Zissou of The Life Aquatic (2004). The young lovers show more grit and determination than any of Anderson’s previous protagonists, bar perhaps Max Fischer of Rushmore (1998). This sense of purpose gives an enjoyable coherence and newly positive touch to Anderson’s characteristic journey of discovery, although there remains that typical tinge of tragedy.
Moonrise Kingdom has a beautiful atmosphere, striking cinematography and a pitch-perfect script. It’s unmistakably Anderson in the best possible ways and for fans and newcomers alike, there’s a lot of laughs to be had.