Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

We're in love. We just want to be together. What's wrong with that?

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 character reactions and camera movements and clever cuts is inspired and provocative. The world itself is filled with funny inventions, too: a hyper-disciplined Boy Scouts like a team of Navy SEALS, an over-the-top animal pageant (“what kind of bird are you?”).

This film also represents a refinement of Wes Anderson’s distinct stylization. Anderson’s color instincts are unparalleled, here full of natural greens and khakis and flashes of floral pinks and blues. It’s truly lovely and nostalgic, evoking an old timey photo — which, importantly enriches the story’s themes of youth searching for classical romance in this world.

Anderson’s real directorial achievement is his endlessly pleasing compositions, symmetrical and precise, and how they bring out a sentimentality in the film’s emotions. “Dollhouse” is the common term for his style, and I think it fits: everything is orderly and entire contained in the frame of relatively flat depth, arranged like a kid putting all of his toys in a row.

Just calling it “dollhouse” undersells Anderson’s achievement, though. He has an artist’s eye, and he gets so much out of such simple cinematic techniques that interrogate the characters and their conflicts and universe. For as prominent and unique as the often artificial, overly-constructed look is, it’s built on basic building blocks like tripod pans and extended medium shots of two people talking. These are maneuvers that directors have been doing for a hundred years, but that never look like this.

Another of the film’s triumphs is the score by Alexandre Desplat. It sets a perfect tone for the film. His score is subtitled “The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe”; and 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 they 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 or eye-rolling at the miniature melodrama they play. They each convey something noble and heroic without sacrificing the edge and naivete built into the characters.

It all adds up into a film of breathtaking richness and joy in which the visuals and the love-conquers-cynicism elevate each other. Anderson applies so many little touches and allusions and interconnected motifs that it’s an endlessly rewatchable film, a million threads to parse out and subsume you. I was blown away the first time I saw the film, but I’ve loved it even more every time since as it continually draws me, its many connections and echoes clicking into place like lovely clockwork.

I haven’t seen every one of Wes Anderson’s films, but this is 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 I dare say one of my all-time favorites.

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4 replies on “Moonrise Kingdom (2012)”

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).

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