Ah, young love. It’s rarely been portrayed as affectionately as in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which might be the director’s most affecting film. While still enveloped in the filmmaker’s trademark style, Moonrise Kingdom is his most accessible film to date, and the love and care with which he paints this story of pre-teen romance is palpable.
The young lovers are Sam Shakowsky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), two 12-year-olds who run away together on a small New England island. You might expect their story to be treated to Anderson’s cynical eye, but no; their scenes together are touching, authentic, and tender. The director really cares for these characters, and saves his commentary for the adults.
It’s 1965, on the (fictitious) island of New Penzance. Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) awakes one morning to discover one of his Khaki Scouts has “flown the coop”. A few hours later, Anderson-standard intellectuals Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), a pair of husband-and-wife lawyers who reside on the island, discover that their daughter is also missing.
A manhunt is called, using the limited resources available on the island: the Scoutmaster and the rest of his troop, who weren’t exactly friendly with Sam, and local police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Bob Balaban, who narrates on screen as if this were a nature documentary, warns of an incoming storm.
But the film is at its best during scenes between the two young lovebirds, particularly an extended sequence when they set up camp at a small bay. Gilman and (particularly) Hayward are revelations as the leads, displaying a virginal innocence but also a maturity that belies their ages.
Moonrise Kingdom has been shot in a faded, pale yellow color scheme that evokes a strong sense of nostalgia and creates a genuine feeling for the time and place. Cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman beautifully captures the setting; the film was shot on location in Rhode Island.
Music plays a huge role in the film, particularly the Benjamin Britten pieces that Suzy listens to throughout, including The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde provides a key thematic Hank Williams also features on the (excellent) soundtrack, and the lovely original score is provided by Alexandre Desplat.
I have only one gripe with the film: a couple lousy CGI effects shots (lightning, explosions) that really stick out and should have been excised completely.
The one knock on director Wes Anderson is that he’s been accused of making the same movie over and over; Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited (and even, perhaps, The Fantastic Mr. Fox) have all been made in the same style and tone.
Moonrise Kingdom, however, is something different. The style – including that instantly recognizable screen composition – is still on full display, as are many of the director’s other quirks. But in terms of story, it’s Anderson’s most straightforward film to date, carrying a simple narrative from start to finish.
And the devotion he has to his leads, the care and optimism with which he tells their story, is also something new for the filmmaker. Moonrise Kingdom is a beautifully crafted film, and one of the best of the first half of 2012.