Review: 'Moonrise Kingdom'
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, June 22, 2012
6/22/12 at 4:27 AM
The place is New Penzance Island, a New England isle 16 miles in length. The time is 1965. The world is a creation of esoteric filmmaker Wes Anderson, and the island is a work of fiction you will find on no map.
New Penzance exists only in the mind of Anderson. Fans of his work ("Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums") will recognize his heightened version of reality, and his all-star ensemble of quirky characters, in his latest work of art that is "Moonrise Kingdom."
His vision is not exactly that of 1965, but of an idealized 1965, in which the world seems to be in order.
There is an innocence that can be found in boys building impossible treehouses and children staying in touch with pen pals. It is summer in 1965, which means it's two years before the "Summer of Love."
New Penzance is a placid place where people act in a civilized manner, a kind of whimsical throwback to a time and place that seems possible only in the movies. This is Anderson's intention and his moviemaking gift, immersing us in another world.
It is also a time when kids do what their parents tell them. Until they don't.
The story is that of a rebellious young lady named Suzy and a boy named Sam who's escaped from his scout troop. They run away together because their love can no longer be denied. Search parties are formed to find the 12-year-old kids before a historic storm makes landfall.
These would include Suzy's parents, a pair of lawyers (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) who seem to be sleepwalking through life, a by-the-book Khaki Scouts of America leader (Edward Norton) who shepherds his troop on a mission to find their young man, and a lonely island policeman (Bruce Willis).
The childhood love story is an affecting one, with an innocent purity to it created by first-time actors Kara Hayward, as Suzy, a girl who likes books with magical stories and who occasionally goes berserk, and Jared Gilman, as Sam, a boy with a good head and good heart and who has considerable outdoor skills, as well as anger issues.
The adventure is always amusing, as Anderson and his co-writer, Roman Coppola, keep us following the young couple's journey from one campsite to another, hiding away as they experience young love's joys and pains in moments meaningful and slapstick in nature.
While the adults form posses for searching, I found there to be a surprising lack of depth in the individual characterizations. The major stars' roles feel more like enlarged cameo performances.
Those featuring Tilda Swinton, as a nameless social services agent, and Jason Schwartzman, as an overgrown scout, fit squarely into this definition.
But no role is too small when they fit together as well as they do here in realizing the melancholy that infuses the spirit of "Moonrise Kingdom."
With two young people who want nothing more than the freedom to be happy with each other, balanced against adults who appear resigned to the fact that they will never feel that way again, Anderson makes a film that is surprisingly romantic and a mature progression in his filmmaking.
Many of his usual storytelling devices appear, such as his unique manner of introducing places (an opening tour of Suzy's home), situations (Bob Balaban as a fourth-wall-breaking narrator) and the ensemble.
A series of correspondence explains the depth of Suzy and Sam's connection, and it is but one of multiple devices that can become a tad familiar after seven of Anderson's pictures.
That said, the devices almost always work flawlessly, even when the story drags a little, and the filmmaker's production team as usual employs gorgeous art direction and costuming.
The look of Anderson's creation feels as if it could all fit within a shadowbox frame to be looked at and admired. The details in the clothes, the children's toys and the music are dreamy.
There is an artistry that is undeniable in watching Anderson's films, and his work can fall somewhere between genius ("The Fantastic Mr. Fox") and pretentious ("The Darjeeling Limited") for me.
"Moonrise Kingdom" falls closer to the side of genius this time around.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill
Murray, Frances McDormand, Kara
Hayward, Jared Gilman
Theater: AMC Southroads 20, Cinemark
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (sexual content, smoking)
Quality: (on a scale of zero to
Original Print Headline: Idyllic tale of young love told beautifully
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Bruce Willis plays Captain Sharp, a lonely island policeman, in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom." Focus Features/Courtesy
Edward Norton (center) is Scout Master Ward in "Moonrise Kingdom." Focus Features/Courtesy