Categories
Review

Moonrise Kingdom (2009)

For all the striking stylistic elements of Moonrise Kingdom, my favorite thing about it might be its simple, effective story. We dive into the film in medias res with what appears to be a fairly simple caper. Pre-teen boy and girl are infatuated, Romeo and Juliet style, and on the run. How will they inevitably get caught?

But with each scene, the film adds a layer onto that story. The boy, Sam (Jared Gilman), has never had a proper home, hence his desire to create one of his own. The girl, Suzy (Kara Hayward), has a dad who is depressed and disengaged (Bill Murray) and a mom (Frances McDormand) who’s having an affair with a local cop (Bruce Willis). Thus, she longs for a more romantic and devoted version of love.

It’s a movie that has every opportunity to scoff at its idealistic and romantic heroes, but always ends up on their side. We must purge, Anderson argues, the cynicism and emotional exhaustion of the past — sin literally washed away by a great flood — in favor of Garden of Eden innocence and progressive hope. Sam and Kara are more devoted and loyal to each other than any other characters in the film, and Moonrise Kingdom genuinely believes the world will be a better place with them together, the rest of the world be damned. In this way, it’s actually the inverse of Romeo and Juliet.

The film operates in a register of deadpan comedy, marvelously maintained throughout the whole runtime. This is a very funny film, often in subdued ways. There aren’t too many punchlines, but the movie doesn’t really need them: everything about the timing and reactions is inherently funny.

This is a Wes Anderon film, so it’s no surprise that we’re drowned highly stylized aesthetics. Anderson’s color instincts are unparalleled, here full of natural greens and khakis and flashes of floral pinks and blues. It’s truly lovely. But Anderson’s real achievement is his endlessly pleasing compositions, symmetrical and precise. “Dollhouse” is the common term for his style, and I think it fits: everything is orderly and entire contained in the frame, arranged like a kid putting all of his toys in a row.

But that undersells Anderson’s achievement. He has an artist’s eye, and he gets so much out of such simple cinematic techniques. For as prominent and unique as the stylization is, it’s built on basic cinematic techniques like tripod pans and extended medium shots of two people talking. Things that directors have been doing for a hundred years, but that never look like this. I don’t know how it always looks so good and compelling, but it always does.

Another of the film’s triumph is the score by Alexandre Desplat. In addition to the spot-on needle drops, Desplat’s score sets a perfect tone for the film. His score is subtitled “The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe”; the composition is as dreamy and whimsical and evocative as the title. It’s perfect.

The acting is excellent. The adults’ intensity and stress always bubbles just under the surface, and the grown ups have great chemistry together, especially Willis and McDormand. But it’s the kids who really impress: Gilman and Hayward are terrifically fun to watch. They don’t betray an ounce of knowingness towards their straight-faced comedy. And they each carry something noble and heroic without sacrificing their characters’ edge.

It all adds up into a film of breathtaking richness; there are so many little touches and allusions that you’ll forever have details to parse out and admire. I was blown away the first time I saw the film, but I’ve loved it even more every time since as more connections click into place.

I haven’t seen every one of Wes Anderson’s films, but this is easily my favorite of his so far. I’ll go one step further: Moonrise Kingdom is one of the best films of the new millennium to date and one of my all-time favorites.

Is It Good?

Masterpiece: Tour De Good (8/8)

Follow Dan on Letterboxd or Twitter. Join the Discord for updates and discussion.

4 replies on “Moonrise Kingdom (2009)”

Right on. Easy no. 2 Wes Anderson and sometimes my no. 1. It is sort of the only Anderson film since Rushmore that feels forward-looking instead of serving as basically an elegy to something or someone.

Oh, and I’ll cop to it: I never consciously put it together how specifically the kids’ actions grow out of their home lives or lack thereof. (“I don’t have a home? Fine, fuck it, I’ll live outdoors.”) Nice insight!

Anyway, do you think “What kind of bird are you?” would work in real life as a pick-up line?

I take it Rushmore is your #1 then? One of a couple of his early ones I haven’t seen. Also haven’t seen his two most recent.

Oh, it’s Life Aquatic, though I believe this is not the consensus pick. I kinda get the impression people dislike it, which is bizarre to me because I don’t understand disliking it and liking, e.g., Grand Budapest Hotel.

Isle of Dogs is a really neat lark, and The French Dispatch is great, though it is, also, a lark (heftier emotionally, but mainly in that Anderson melancholy about things past).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *