It’s possible that Moonrise Kingdom isn’t your kind of film. It’s possible that you’ve never been on an adventure, or wanted to be. It’s possible that you’ve never been in love, or wanted to be. It’s possible that you’ve never been a child, or wanted to be one again. These are all good reasons to not see Moonrise Kingdom. The idea – the fear – that Moonrise Kingdom might be “quirky” or “kooky” or “whimsical” or “twee” or “hipster”? That is not a reason not to see Moonrise Kingdom.
Possibly, Moonrise Kingdom, the new movie from Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr Fox etc), is all of those things: but none of those things really matter. Moonrise Kingdom is – among many, many things – an education in the fact that “quirk” is at most an aesthetic, a style, and not an essence. The film is quirky, but quirk isn’t the point: the film is beautiful and sad, light-hearted and black-hearted, subtle and nuanced and yet heartbreakingly direct and earnest. It is all these things because its central characters Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) are all these things.
12-year old Sam and Suzy live in 1965 on the island of New Penzance, off the New England coast. New Penzance is story-sized: big enough for wilderness and adventures, small enough that every who lives on it gets to be part of the plot. A year after a chance meeting and a flood of correspondence, Sam and Suzy decide to run away, he from his scout troop, she from her dysfunctional lighthouse-dwelling family. He brings a miniature canoe and a tent: she brings stolen library books and a kitten.
Sam and Suzy speak with the awkward ultra-sincerity of precocious children echoing half-understood books and movies, and thus come out with some of the most convincing child acting you will see (especially if you yourself ever were like that). They are in love, and aren’t quite sure how to be, and if you need any proof that this film is far more nuanced and emotionally intelligent than people are going to say, you need only look at the sensitivity with which it treats child sexuality.
But of course it wouldn’t be running away without someone coming after you, and in this case it is most of the island: Suzy’s lawyer parents, (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), Sam’s frustrated scoutmaster (Edward Norton), the island’s lonely only cop (Bruce Willis) and eventually the terrifying woman known only as Social Services (Tilda Swinton). The local adults are sad and lost and frequently very funny, and with a cast like that how could they not be? All the while a literal storm is brewing around the island, and when it hits everything comes catastrophically together.
Moonrise Kingdom is extraordinary. It is shot with the same self-conscious seriousness of its protagonists and dipped in the colours of September in New England, accompanied by Benjamin Britten, Hank Williams and Francoise Hardy and filled with tiny touches of visual brilliance. It has humour and sadness and seems both original and timeless. Above all, it is ringingly free of the all-consuming irony that people think of when they think of “quirk” and “twee” and “hipsters”. It is a film from the heart, and it is your kind of film.
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Moonrise Kingdom Trailer