Directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two 12-year old kids who run away as parents, a scout master, a police chief, and a social services official go on the search for them in a New England island. The film marks a first for Anderson as it is set in a non-modern period as the story is set in the mid-1960s. The film also explores Anderson’s themes of childlike innocence and adults lost in their own unhappiness. With a cast that includes Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, the film also stars Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, and introducing Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Moonrise Kingdom is an enriching and heartwarming film from Wes Anderson.
In an island on the coast of New England, a skillful orphan boy named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has just resigned his post as a Khaki Scout leader by fleeing the camp as his scout master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) is surprised by the news. Meanwhile, a young girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) also ran away from home as the two young lovers meet as they trek towards a legendary trail around the island. Suzy’s parents in Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) learn that Suzy has ran away as they admit that she’s been behaving very strange as of late as local police chief Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) heads the search. With Ward heading his scout troops to find Sam, things get more complicated when Laura finds out that Sam and Suzy had been communicating for a year through pen-pal letters while learning where they’re going.
After finding them, the adults hope to split up Sam and Suzy as Sharp feels conflicted over what he’s doing as his affair with Laura is also complicating matters. When Ward tells Sam that he can’t go back to his foster parents, he is horrified when a Social Services official (Tilda Swinton) wants to take Sam to a juvenile facility which also upsets Sharp. Help suddenly arrives in the most unlikely form for Sam and Suzy as they run away again leaving the adults to go on a search for them leading to climatic moment during a terrifying storm.
The film is about two young kids who fall in love as they run away leaving a group of adults on the search for them as they each deal with their own issues. That is pretty much it as the film does explore a lot of Wes Anderson’s themes involving adults lost in their melancholia as well as uncertainty in their roles. What makes this film different from a lot of Anderson’s previous efforts is the fact that it centers around two very troubled kids who feel like people don’t get them except each other where they fall in love and go on an adventure.
The screenplay that Anderson and Roman Coppola concoct is an exploration into the lives of these characters as Sam and Suzy are these two kids who don’t live happy home lives while they’re also not treated well by other kids. Because they feel connected by their alienation as well as feeling out of place with everyone, they go in this adventure where they want to make their own rules. This would cause a small group of adults to get together and find them where they each have to face their own issues. Scout Master Ward is just trying to create a great troop to impress a superior (Harvey Keitel) as he also has to learn what it takes to be a true leader. Captain Sharp is a man who feels alone as he’s having an affair with Laura Bishop that happens due to an unhappy marriage to Walt as he is lost in his own melancholia as he is aware that something isn’t right.
The narrative is quite simple as there’s moments where Anderson would find ways to break from convention and add his own quirks to the story. This quirk would be in the form of a narrator (Bob Balaban) who only appears in a few moments to discuss the locations and some of its historical (although fictional) aspects to create an atmosphere. Yet, there’s one scene where he becomes part of the story where the narrator appears to calm things down where he would reveal something to advance the story. The script also has Biblical references to the story of Noah as it would become prominent in a climatic moment in the film’s third act as Anderson and Coppola create a truly dazzling screenplay.
Anderson’s direction is typical of his work in his approach to framing yet there’s a sense of restraint to the way Anderson create scenes. Shot on location in Rhode Island with 16mm film blown-up into 35mm, there’s a richness to the way the film looks as Anderson definitely is looking for something that is close to making something that comes from the 1960s or the 1970s. While it’s a film that is about the innocence of youth and the complication of adulthood, Anderson does find ways to have the actors be framed a certain way or to shoot them in close-ups to establish these characters without explaining much.
Another key element to Anderson’s direction is the way he creates a world that is unique such as the books that Suzy carries or the paintings that Sam makes. Anderson is aware of who these kids are as he follows them in their adventures with gorgeous wide and tracking shots along with some hand-held work. Other parts of Anderson’s direction that is entrancing to watch includes a montage of how Sam and Suzy met that includes an amazing play scene in the background where it would set up ideas of what would come in the film’s third act. Overall, Anderson creates a truly intoxicating and exhilarating film that definitely ranks as one of his great films.
Cinematographer Robert Yeomen does incredible work with the film‘s gorgeous and ravishing photography that is filled with amazing color schemes for many of the forest locations in the daytime to some amazing interior scenes at night as it presents some of Yeomen‘s best work. Editor Andrew Weisblum does brilliant work with the editing such as the pen-pal letter readings, some of the films‘ action sequences, and some effective dramatic cutting to help create a mood in those scenes. Production designer Adam Stockhausen, with set decorator Kris Moran and art director Gerald Sullivan, does amazing work with the set pieces such as the Bishop home that includes a lighthouse, the tent that Sam carries, and various other objects that includes some artwork by Eric Chase Anderson.
Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimome does superb work with the costumes from the design of the Khaki Scout uniforms to the pink dress that Suzy wears along with the animal costumes in the play scene. Visual effects supervisor Dan Schrecker does nice work with the minimal visual effects that was used such as the effects in the climatic thunderstorm sequence. Sound editor Craig Henighan does terrific work with the sound such as the way sound is created in the brief play scene as well as the intimate moments in the woods.
The film’s score by Alexandre Desplat is marvelous for score that includes lush orchestral arrangements with vocal choirs in the background and many instruments as it‘s playful and dramatic. The film’s soundtrack is supervised by Randall Poster as it features many classical pieces by Benjamin Britten that plays to many of the film’s dramatic elements along with additional classical and operatic pieces by Mozart, Franz Schubert, and Camille Saint-Saens. Other pieces of music includes the country music of Hank Williams, drum cadence music by Mark Mothersbaugh, and the 60s French pop of Francoise Hardy as it’s among one of Anderson’s great soundtracks.
The casting by Douglas Aibel is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features notable small roles from Neal Huff as air pilot Jed, Harvey Keitel as the scout leader Commander Pierce, Bob Balaban as the film’s narrator, Larry Pine as Sam’s foster dad, and Jason Schwartzman as a scout leader named Cousin Ben. In the roles of the Bishop brothers, there’s Jake Ryan, Tanner Flood, and Wyatt Ralff as they’re very funny while L.J. Foley, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Charlie Kilgore, Lucas Hedges, Gabriel Rush, Tommy Nelson, and Chandler Frantz are superb as the other Khaki Scout troopers. Tilda Swinton is excellent as the Social Services official who tries to impose her rules on what to do as well as reveal the fate Sam might play once she takes him.
Edward Norton is wonderful as the clueless but caring Scout Master Randy Ward who tries to figure out why Sam fled as he also has to deal with his own flaws as a scout master. Frances McDormand is superb as Suzy’s mother Laura who tries to deal with Suzy’s troubled behavior as well as the fact that she is going through a failed marriage and an affair that’s on the outs. Bill Murray is great as Suzy’s dad Walt who is trying to deal with the secrets that is going on in his family while realizing that some of it might be his own fault as he tries to find a way to fix it. Bruce Willis is incredible as the police chief Captain Ward who tries to deal with his own loneliness as well as the fact that he isn’t the bet authority figure out there as Willis brings a real great sense of restraint to a man that just wants to do what is right.
The film’s best performances easily goes to newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in their respective roles of Sam and Suzy. Gilman brings a lot of energy and real-world weariness to a young boy who feels alone as he falls for this young girl while finding two unlikely friends in adults like Scout Master Ward and Captain Sharp. Kara Hayward has an air of radiance as an equally-troubled girl who feels lost in her dysfunctional family as she wants an escape. Gilman and Hayward together have a chemistry that is entrancing to watch in the way they interact as well as display a romance that is endearing to watch as they’re the film’s major highlight.
Moonrise Kingdom is an enchanting film from Wes Anderson. Featuring an outstanding ensemble cast along with amazing technical work and a ravishing soundtrack. It’s a film that definitely has everything Anderson fans want and more while it’s also very accessible for the way it portrays young love and adult dysfunction. In the end, Moonrise Kingdom is a masterfully-crafted and sensational film from Wes Anderson.
Wes Anderson Films: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Hotel Chevalier - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - The Auteurs #8: Wes Anderson
Soundtracks: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Seu Jorge-The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - (Moonrise Kingdom)
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