Watching a Wes Anderson film that really clicks is something to behold, an experience dripping with nostalgia, quirky humor, and an array of eccentric characters teetering on the edge of genius and insanity. Like "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Moonrise Kingdom" is a tongue-in-cheek comedy that exists in a universe that only Anderson could have created, a world of serious people that have no idea how funny they actually are. Though Anderson's subtle gags and series of small laughs will once again irritate the more casual viewer, "Moonrise Kingdom" shows off a good comic filmmaker near the top of his game.
Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a girl wasting away in an isolated New England home, where she spends her summers with her two young brothers who pay her no mind and a pair of unsatisfied parents going through the motions. She gazes out her window with a set of binoculars, looking for just about anything to shake her out of her walking slumber. At one point, she spies her mother engaging in some questionable activity with a local cop yet hardly flinches. Not only does Kara not seem surprised that her mother might be having an affair, but she doesn't even really seem to care. What she needs is a way out.
Luckily for her, she's crossed paths with Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), an odd but precocious boy scout who boldly got her attention when her family visited the island the previous summer. While Sam's fellow boy scouts at a local camp get ready for another predictable day, Sam has had enough, abandoning his scout leader, Randy (Ed Norton), and the rest of the group to explore the island and to put his scouting knowledge into action.
He also ropes in Suzy, who he has been writing letters to for a full year as he plans his magnum opus. As the two escape, Sam and Suzy are smart enough to know that it probably won't last forever (the island isn't very big, after all), but they should be able to raise hell in the meantime. As they shoot off into the wilderness together, two kids with a suitcase full of books and a backpack full of scouting supplies, the world appears to be their oyster.
Meanwhile, their escape has set off a firestorm of concern. Scout leader Randy, distraught and deeply saddened, knows that Sam is a good scout but understands that 12-year-olds do stupid and dangerous things. He's too concerned to be upset. Also joining his side is Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), a local policeman who lives in a pitiful shack by the docks and is too depressed to even think about abusing his authority. Together they make for a sorrow tandem but are determined to get Sam and Suzy back in one piece.
Then there are Suzy's parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Murray, an Anderson regular, is perfect as a pot-bellied, cranky cuckold who likes to walk around shirtless with a bottle of whiskey and an axe - just in case a tree needs chopping down. If he can't help the rescue operation, he might as well at least succumb to the madness. McDormand, on the other hand, plays the type of mother so overwrought she feels the need to bark into a megaphone to bring her kids down for supper.
But even with some big laughs from Murray and McDormand, the movie still belongs to youngster Gilman, who fits into Anderson's deadpan brand of humor with surprising ease and makes Sam the perfect anti-hero. Sam is the kind of guy you wouldn't want to bring around your fragile and sensitive friend, mainly because he has a talent for blurting out obvious truths without deference. He's the type of person who might say "I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about" as if it's the most serious thing he will ever say, and mean it with complete affection.
In fact, one of the most refreshing parts of the movie, as with any Anderson film, is the way the kids talk to one another. Instead of the usual plot-driven chit-chat, Suzy and Sam have a series of awkward interactions more indicative of the way that two 12-year-olds would actually talk. You get the feeling that the conversations are somehow spontaneous, mostly thanks to a clever script written by Anderson alongside Roman Coppola. Though "Moonrise Kingdom" isn't exactly realistic, its authenticity lies in capturing the psychology of two pre-adolescents determined to be serious yet unable to break away from childish logic.
Anderson films often need a few minutes to warm up, to reacquaint you with the rules of his universe before plunging into a steady series of little gags and funny human observations. "Moonrise Kingdom" also takes it slowly, but once it really hits stride and you see just how much Sam has planned, it's hard not to grin and go along for the ride. Even if Anderson is still hitting many of the same notes as he did with "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore" back in the 1990s, "Moonrise Kingdom" is unique in its own right and Anderson's best movie in a decade.
by RTT Staff Writer
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