THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson's most playful film yet. All the Anderson trademarks are accounted for: the symmetrical framing, the rotating cameras, the slow motion walking sequences, etc. This time, they are employed in the service of a story that is looser and more freewheeling than anything Anderson has been since Rushmore. It took me about 15 minutes to get into its groove, but once I did, I was completely enthralled.
Set in 1965, on a small island off the coast of New England, this is the story of Sam (Jared Gilman), a 12 year-old Khaki Scout who abandons his troop to run away with his pubescent crush, Suzy (Kara Hayward). Sam is an orphan who may have problems with mental stability, whereas Suzy comes from an unhappy home. She resents her mother Laura (Frances McDormand) for carrying on an affair with the island's police chief, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Her father Walt (Bill Murray) is always busy working or being generally distracted. Her little brothers are pests. When the two kids run off into the wilderness, Sharp heads up a search party. Assisting him is Sam's bumbling scout leader, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and the entire scout troop. Meanwhile, a major storm looms off the coast, making it imperative that Sam and Suzy are found as quickly as possible.
Anderson's films typically need to be seen twice by me. The first time, I usually marvel at his visual style, quirky characterization, and penchant for eccentricities. The second time, I notice more that, underneath the director's distinct oddball tone, they resonate on a deeper emotional level. (I just re-saw The Darjeeling Limited and would now up my star rating to three-and-a-half.) Moonrise Kingdom will doubtlessly get even better with repeated viewings, but the emotional stuff is easier to spot on the first go-round. It is a sweetly kooky ode to the intensity of young love. Although they don't know each other particularly well, Sam and Suzy find an escape in their union. They willfully lose themselves in a fantasy of being grown up in a world without grownups. And since Sam is well-trained in the art of survival, he's certain that he can take care of Suzy in the wilds.
Jared Gilman and Kara Heyward are real finds. Despite their youthful age, they know exactly how to nail Anderson's fondness for exaggerated characters. The kids could come off as a bit precious, yet the young actors find real humanity in them. If you ever felt inwardly tormented as a 12 year-old, you'll relate to Sam and Suzy. A terrific ensemble cast provides backup, with Norton getting laughs as the scout leader who really tries hard to take no nonsense, and Tilda Swinton getting even more laughs as a Social Services worker named...Social Services. She devotes herself to finding Sam so that she can send him to juvenile detention, which puts in motion the third-act events that show Moonrise Kingdom's compassionate heart.
Anderson really fires on all cylinders this time. He balances broad comedy with occasionally surreal quirk, while still holding the emotional center. The film is largely told through the eyes of the kids, so the delightfully silly little touches are indicative of how they see the world. When you get right down to it, these young folks are wiser and more grounded than the adults around them. They see through the folly of their “role models.” In his previous films, Anderson dealt with disaffected adults, trapped in their own discontent. Telling a story about children appears to have freed him somewhat. The movie has moments of action, and even some special effects (albeit ones intentionally designed to look not-quite-realistic). Everything adds up to create a cinematic rush that simulates what Sam and Suzy are feeling inside.
While Moonrise Kingdom bears its maker's unmistakable stamp, it also feels new and fresh, very much unlike anything else out there right now. The beauty of a picture like this is that you can't anticipate where it's going to go. There are surprises every few minutes – sometimes a plot twist, other times an unexpectedly absurd bit of comedy, still other times a creative visualization of an idea. Even the end credits are compellingly presented. At a time when even fun movies often feel rubber-stamped, it's so refreshing to see one that catches you off guard, making you smile with its exuberant energy. Moonrise Kingdom celebrates crazy young love in grand style.
( out of four)
Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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