Synopsis: A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.
Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis
Director: Wes Anderson
Running Length: 94 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Physical Effects and Miniatures ~ Gene Warren III
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: As children, fairy tales come fast and furious. There are an endless stream of books, television shows, movies, cartoons, etc that create fantasy worlds for our imaginations to run wild with. As adults, we all too often are deprived of actual fairy tales. Sure, the adult version of fairy tales could be the latest action/adventure/special effects bonanza and that’s OK too. We also get the occasional cartoon that is aimed at children but has humor that adults can really appreciate. Still, when was the last time an original fairy tale was created for the post-teenager crowd? Our fairy tale wishes have been granted with Moonrise Kingdom, the best example of committed and creative filmmaking to be released in 2012.
Director Anderson is no stranger to fantastical worlds of his own making. Every movie he’s helmed involves people, places, and situations from an Earth that looks a lot like ours but is seen through a kaleidoscope of color and music our eyes and ears aren’t always privy to. That’s created a bit of a problem for me in some of his films. While I appreciated Rushmore and enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums, I found The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited to be exercises in frustration. He bounced back nicely with the wondrous Fantastic Mr. Fox and returns to full-bodied form with Moonrise Kingdom.
As with all Anderson films, you need to decide if you’re going to go with it or not. If you can’t give yourself over to the narrative structure or slight oddity of his style then you may want to select a different title for your movie night. I think it’s a worthwhile choice no matter what mood you are in and what experience you want to have. While Moonrise Kingdom may start off seemingly incoherent, it tightens its grip steadily and brings you along on its gentle ride.
Set in the 60’s, our story begins its once upon a time with several mysterious scenes that appear to be unrelated but in time all come together. What is young Suzy (Hayward) looking at through binoculars outside her window? Where has Khaki Scout Sam (Gilman) disappeared to? What of Suzy’s parents (McDormand and Murray) who seem to inhabit the same house but never the same room? And how does Scout Master Ward (Norton) and Captain Sharp (Willis) fit into the whole mix? All of these questions and more are covered nicely – interspersed with musical interludes and back-story asides that complement the present action.
Hayward and Gilman are young, inexperienced actors and it shows. Their matter-of-fact line readings do come off as a bit amateur but it somehow works well when paired with the bravura dialogue cooked up Anderson and Roman Coppola. These are youngsters that have issues…be it personality quirks or psychological setbacks and the Anderson/Coppola script cares for them nicely. Their determination to be together is part Romeo and Juliet, part Bonnie and Clyde and were they played by actors that were too knowing it wouldn’t have worked the same way.
Casting the young leads with such novices, Anderson was smart enough to surround them with valued character actors that were willing to go the extra mile and commit to playing cartoon characters that never act cartoony. I think Willis is often not given enough credit as a fairly decent actor. True, this lack of credit is only fueled by his acceptance of umpteen roles that require him to show up and shoot a gun. When he takes on these kind of comically strange roles he shows why he’s the go-to-guy for exactly these types of characters.
Murray, Norton, and McDormand all amicably glide through the movie with full faith that their performances will be captured correctly in Anderson’s lens. Murray is Anderson’s frequent star and you can tell that a certain sense of unspoken gravitas was afforded him as he really stretches into the absurd territory. Murray can come off as quite aloof in movies but here that aloofness is written into the part from the get-go.
Swinton pops up in a glorified cameo doing her best Meryl Streep impression. That’s not a dig at either actress and it made me wonder if the role was written with Streep in mind (she did contribute her voice to Fantastic Mr. Fox)…still, Swinton cuts a great figure in Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s deliriously perfect costumes.
The production design of the film is a wonder in and of itself. Vibrant colors and mod touches abound in every single frame of the film, giving the film a look and feel of a movie that truly was made in the 60’s without being kitschy. Nothing feels artificial or overly designed…a trait common in Anderson’s entire repertoire. Composer Alexandre Desplat’s contributions cannot be measured as his arrangements elevate each scene that much higher with his perfect underscoring. Mark Mothersbaugh, too, adds a percussive musical mood with several booming drum sequences.
If the film were to be faulted anything, it would be its relentless attack of creativity. That’s hardly a bad thing but it can be a bit overwhelming to capture on one viewing…meaning that a second look is nearly required to take in all that is presented in 94 minutes. That viewing the movie is such a total pleasure I can’t imagine that anyone would be unhappy to visit this Anderson’s brilliant kingdom again (and again). You’ll live happily ever after if you do.