Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ brings together another group of oddball characters

Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman and Jason Schwartzman in Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ — Photo courtesy of Niko Tarvernise

Wes Anderson films have almost become a cliche. That’s not a critique, but an overwhelming endorsement of the fine movies this auteur is able to create. He has a unique style that audiences have responded favorably to over the years. He gathers together a pitch-perfect ensemble of talented actors, has them bring to life a cast of strange characters, and then spins a yarn so different and endearing, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the whole project. From The Royal Tenenbaums to Fantastic Mr. Fox to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the director makes it look easy.

His films don’t begin and end with the story and characters. He’s also able to use colors, costumes and inventions to tie everything together, almost like an author of children books is able to marry image with dialogue to create a whole new world.

In Moonrise Kingdom, his latest effort, Anderson tells the story of a few lost souls on a New England island. There’s Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who presides over the island’s safety and security. There’s Walt (Billy Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), a couple of psychologists who shelter their children from the outside world. There’s Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), grand poobah of a Boy Scout camp, a man who requires excellence and on-time perfection from his cadre of young soldiers. All four of these adult characters run through the motions of their dull routines, never once giving the impression that they were once young and enjoyed life.

Our two main characters are Suzy (Kara Hayward), Walt and Laura’s inquisitive daughter, and Sam (Jared Gilman), a troublesome Scout under Ward’s command. After writing letters to each other for a long time, both Suzy and Sam decide to break from their surroundings and run away together. They meet up, ensure they have enough supplies to survive and then set off for the far reaches of the mysterious island. The two lovebirds go through the motions of an adult relationship, falling in love with each other, experiencing their first kiss, dancing on the beach, learning to cook and seek shelter. In a matter of a few hours, they become grown ups, but not boring ones. They still get so much out of life, unlike the rest of the adults on the island.

Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDromand in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ — Photo courtesy of Focus Features

All of the actors are uniformly excellent, including Willis and Norton, both playing against type. The stars here are Hayward and Gilman, who both mark their cinematic debut with Moonrise Kingdom. They never make the dialogue feel natural, but that’s in perfect symmetry with Anderson’s intentions. When they read their lines, it’s almost like they’re reading a book or trying their best to sound a lot older. It makes their conversations awkward and sweet, two qualities that are terribly difficult to reproduce on film.

Anderson and Roman Coppola write the movie with a cute, laughable air. Everything is a little ridiculous, and yet a little heartbreaking. It finds the heart of black comedy and burrows in for the long haul. Anderson’s direction is equally transportive. Scenes come alive with perfectly constructed camera shots. When we first meet Scout Master Ward, the camera dollies along in a perfect line as the character walks through his morning routine. Its a rigid, straight-line shot for a rigid, straight-line character.

For some audience members, Anderson films are head scratchers, nothing more and nothing less. There are many times to smile, but few times to outright laugh. He seems to play with our need for reality and catharsis, depriving us of convention and contrivance. For those able to shed the years of adulthood and preconceived notions that come with watching a movie, Moonrise Kingdom and Anderson’s increasingly brilliant resume can provide some of the best cinematic experiences available from this weird place called Hollywood.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Moonrise Kingdom

  • 2012

  • Directed by Wes Anderson

  • Written by Anderson and Roman Coppola

  • Starring Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel

  • Running time: 94 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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