How old were you were you first fell in love? As we get older, our perception of what love is changes based on our experiences. But that first time has no precedent. You just start to feel something you’ve never felt before, and you assume that it must be love. Maybe it is. More often, it’s not. Are the two young children at the center of Moonrise Kingdom really in love? They certainly think so.
Moonrise Kingdom is a film that approaches Zooey Deschanel-esque levels of quirkiness. Set in the 1960s on the small, fictional island of New Penzance, very young lovers Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) have run away to start a new life together. The two met a year earlier at a local school production of the story of Noah’s Ark in a scenario that can be considered love at first sight. Sam is the least popular kid at his camp by a large margin. He’s a typical, awkward-looking prepubescent boy, and the other kids think he’s got mental issues brought on by the fact that he’s an orphan. Suzy wears blue eyeliner and a calm demeanor, though apparently, she is capable of going “berserk.”
The search party for the two kids includes Sam’s “Khaki Scout” brethren, led by the ridiculous Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and also Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the local law officer, who also happens to be having an affair with Suzy’s mom. Suzy’s parents are lawyers Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), a loveless duo who consider Suzy to be a problem child. These goofy characters all come together to find these kids and bring them home, before a devastating storm sweeps over the town.
If William Shakespeare wanted Romeo and Juliet to be a comedy, he would have written Moonrise Kingdom. There’s an air of elegance in the dialogue, reminiscent of the poetic wit Shakespeare is famous for. The characters say beautiful and devilishly clever things, but we know that nobody actually talks like that in real life. The 12 year-olds speak in profundities that an average 20-something may consider educated. It’s hard to believe any of the characters in Moonrise Kingdom would really exist, but that doesn’t really matter. The ideas they tackle are real, and their insights into them are fascinating.
The entire feel of the film is the epitome of offbeat and wacky. The Bishop family home looks like an oversized dollhouse, and it sticks out like a sore thumb, with its tacky red paint job. Almost every shot in the film is done at a perfectly level angle, and the camera never seems to move in any nonlinear direction. The camera doesn’t stray from the lines of North, South, East, and West, as if the cinematographer was using Sam’s compass as a guideline. There are only a few noticeable shot-reverse shot dialogue scenes, and there’s even one instance of Anderson breaking the 180 degree line. The shots are composed beautifully, typically with the important action taking place right in the center of the screen.
Love is the centerpiece of Moonrise Kingdom, the common thread that keeps the sweater from unravelling. Who in this film is doing “love” right? Sam and Suzy show a seemingly unbreakable bond, a deep desire to be with one another no matter who is chasing them and no matter what nature throws at them. But they’re only 12 years old, and surely, what they’re feeling can’t be the love that adults share. Walt and Laura Bishop are adults, but they don’t seem to be doing love right at all either. They speak to each other in legal jargon and don’t share a tender moment throughout the film. There’s also the little issue of Laura’s affair with Captain Sharp. Whatever Walt and Laura have, it definitely isn’t love. Sam and Suzy may be young, but what they have seems to be able to endure anything.
Moonrise Kingdom is a beautiful coming-of-age tale, a quirky gem where 12 year-olds can discuss the prospect of marriage standing next to a trampoline. The acting is top-notch, anchored by great outings from Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and a hilarious Jason Schwartzman. The unconventional storytelling may be unsavory for some and the pace sometimes drags, but these amount to nothing more than differences in taste. Equal parts ridiculous and touching, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the best films of the year.
My Rating: (8.5/10)