Moonrise Kingdom

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
  Moonrise Kingdom
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

It is 1965 and Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is at the Khaki Scout camp with his troupe on the island of New Penzance off the New England Coast. A year before, he met Suzie Bishop (Kara Hayward) and they became pen pals and, over time, the 12-year olds fell in love. Now, they conspire to escape their separate homes and meet in a meadow to begin their adventurous journey to find the “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Hullabaloo ’65, the big annual jubilee for the Khaki Scouts, is only days away when Sam and Suzie run away. Unknown at the time to all on the island, there is an epic storm brewing (we know, thanks to the Narrator (Bob Balaban), who kindly sets the stage at the start of “Moonrise Kingdom”). When Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) discovers that Sam is missing, he leads a mass search for the runaway scout and his girl friend. It is a race against time and weather for the fleeing young couple to get to their final destination and freedom.

My favorite Wes Anderson film, his second, “Rushmore,” lives in the spirit of “Moonrise Kingdom,” which is, at its heart, a love story between 12-year old kids. Anderson combines this youthful and natural feeling romance with the drama of the search for the missing kids (Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) deputizes Scout Master Ward and his entire troupe to make the kid hunt legal). The pending storm, to be named Hurricane Maybelline, further adds to the tension of the escape and the chase.

Wes Anderson, right from the start of his filmmaking, has always had quirky characters, kitschy production and goofy stories. “Moonrise Kingdom” is an amalgamation of all of his previous films and takes the best of his works to create his best work, yet. It is the kind of film that is a pleasure to watch as the original story (by Anderson and Roman Coppola) unfolds. The two kids leading the exemplary veteran cast – Norton, Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton (known only as “Social Services”), Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzmann – are the perfect embodiment of Wes Anderson youthful protagonists and Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are terrific in their roles. The supporting cast, from veteran actors to the kids comprising Sam’s scout troupe, are fun and funny and are part of the package.

The production is beautifully crafted and details, like Sam’s backpack of equipment that carries all the comforts of home, are done with humor and care. This is a total package with its clever script, solid acting and terrific techs and production and is Wes Anderson at his best. I give it an A-.

In 1965 as summer draws to a close on the island of New Penzance, we're told a legendary storm is approaching and will hit three days hence.  In the interim, the least popular khaki scout in Scout Master Ward's (Edward Norton) troop, Sam Shakusky (newcomer Jared Gilman), has written a letter of resignation and set off to meet Suzy Bishop (newcomer Kara Hayward), the twelve year-old girl he's been corresponding with.  A year earlier, he was smitten when he first set eyes on her in her dressing room before a church production of 'Noye's Fludde.'  Sam prides himself on his survival skills and has mapped out a route along a Chicksaw trail that will take them to a magical inlet he calls "Moonrise Kingdom."

From the opening shot of a cross-stitched house hanging on a wall of the home it pictures, "Moonrise Kingdom" is unmistakably a Wes Anderson film and it is his best film since his best film "Rushmore," his only other movie to focus on children on the threshold of an adult world.  The Anderson touchstones abound, from the cross-sectional introduction to the Bishop home (a la "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou") to the off kilter but just right musical choices (like Suzy and Sam's themes of Francoise Hardy's 'Le Temps de l'Amour' and Hank Williams's 'Kaw-Liga').  The film has been art-directed to a fare-thee-well from Walt Bishop's (Bill Murray) WASPy crazy-quilt plaid pants to those old plaid bean bag ashtrays found on the TV trays of boomers' childhoods.  If plaid is a pattern of choice (check out those khaki scout tents), yellow, orange and green are the film's prominent colors, perfectly evoking summer turning into fall.

As maps are a constant throughout, we are given the lay of the land by narrator Bob Balaban, bearded and set against the elements in a red rain slicker.  In the Bishop house, the three boys are listening to 'The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra' on a portable record player while Suzy reads in a window seat.  At Camp Ivanhoe, Scout Master Ward runs inspections before discovering that Sam's tent, zipped closed from the inside, is vacant. Ward reports his missing camper to Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who then pays a visit to the Bishops where Anderson makes it clear that Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with the officer and that her husband seems to know this.  Meanwhile, Suzy, a younger incarnation of Margot Tenenbaum, meets Sam in the specified field and allows his expert guidance to get them to the promised land where they will swim in the sea and dance and where Sam will make her the subject of one of his (in)famous nudes.

This last scene evokes "Titanic," just as a later scene of scout warfare in the woods recalls a more adult one in "Inglourious Basterds."  Here Anderson is influenced by others' work rather than the overt name checking used in Max Fischer's plays.  But above all is his emotionally true drollery  - this love story between an unwanted orphan and misunderstood tween is genuinely touching, as is the melancholy of the film's two male authority figures.  While Sam and Suzy 'honeymoon,' Laura reevaluates, Ward anguishes over his lost charge's history and Sharp wrangles with Social Services, personified by Tilda Swinton in Salvation Army-like attire. As the adults fret over Sam, his whole troop, having changed their minds about him, disappears to bring him and Suzy to the scout Fort across the channel where Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman) agrees to marry them before they make their second getaway.

As with all Anderson films, the basic story is just a hanger for characterizations and continuing themes, like parental infidelity and loss (Anderson cowrote with his "Darjeeling Limited" partner, Roman Coppola). The minutiae of small town bureaucracy reflects Anderson's sense of order - Rushmore's clubs are Moonrise's scout badges, its school rules reflected here by Social Services rigidity. We learn a lot about Captain Sharp when we discover he lives in a 50's era trailer on an island with no paved roads and much about Bishop family life from mom Laura's communication via megaphone.    The sea creatures of Zissou and animals of "Mr. Fox" are reflected in the medieval reenactment of Noah's Ark (which also foreshadows the looming storm), where Suzy is a raven.  But where "Rushmore" was perfection, "Moonrise Kingdom" has a few jarring moments, like the obvious dummy double used in Ward's rescue of Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel) and the stormy climax atop St. Jack's Church which screams sound stage.  Tilda Swinton's alienness is also alienating, her character's otherness not quite meshing with the tone the rest of the cast is pitched to.

Anderson's gotten delightful performance from his huge cast of kids, with Gilman in particular a real find, a confident outcast.  Fabulous faces earn the names of Izod, Roosevelt and Lazy Eye.  "The Innkeepers'" Jake Ryan has a knack for milking a line as Suzy's younger brother Lionel.  But the film's most affecting performance comes from Ed Norton, a scout master so devoted he calls his career teaching elementary math his 'part time' job.  Norton's got heart (his commendation on Sam's campsite is priceless).  "Moonrise Kingdom" is a lovely little film about love, l'amour beneath a pitched tarp.

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