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Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom
05.23.2012
9 10

PLOT: On a small New England island in the summer of 1965, young Sam Shakusky quits the Khaki Scouts to run away with his love, Suzy Bishop, while a frantic search for the two gets underway.

REVIEW: Wes Anderson is an acquired taste. Even as someone who considers himself an appreciator of the director's filmography, I'll admit that his particular, peculiar style doesn't always go down easy. Frequently there's something too cute, too forcefully “quirky,” about the way his movies bee-bop about their business, with their quaint musical cues, colorfully arranged sets and dopey/intellectual characters who wear their emotions on their sleeves. Like the lead in RUSHMORE, the overachieving smartest-guy-in-the-room Max Fischer, Anderson's movies can often try so hard to be impeccable that it's irritating.

But MOONRISE KINGDOM causes no such concerns; it is in many ways the movie Anderson has always tried to make, although this time it's just right. Perhaps because its leads are children, two cute but sly tweens played by unknowns, and Anderson's movies all share the bouncy gait of adolescence. The director himself seems like something of a kid (a really smart kid) trapped in the body of a supremely talented (if rather unusual) filmmaker, and here he's shared his sweet vision of youthful romance and adventure in a movie that's delightful and weird enough to please his faithful fans while winning over new ones.

The film starts with a helpful narrator (Bob Balaban, who is seen as well as heard) setting the scene of the play at hand. We're in New Penzance, an island somewhere in New England, and the topic on everybody's mind is the sudden disappearance of Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a brainy outsider who has quit the Khaki Scouts and fled into the woods. (The island is occupied by an inordinate amount of Khaki Scouts) Said vanishing is the result of a long-in-the-works pact between Sam and his soul-mate, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a similarly precocious loner whom Sam has been corresponding with for a good stretch of time. Their letters to each other have detailed the pain of the personal lives and their mutual desire to run away together and, with the brave arrogance of youth at work, the two head off into the wilderness with Sam's ample Khaki Scout knowledge providing food, shelter and all the rest while Suzy dutifully supports her man.

The two are quintessential Wes Anderson protagonists: they're intense, determined, unafraid to declare their passions on a whim, but also stoic and plain-spoken. They're not out to impress anybody because their confidence is self-contained; certain they know best, they are yet are open to the ideas of others. The kids, Gilman and Hayward, play their parts about as well as can be hoped for – especially considering that they enter the film without any prior big-screen performances.

Of course, there are adults on the periphery, most of them not half as wise as our young lovebirds. There's Randy, the dorky leader of the Khaki Scouts who finds himself in over his head attempting to deal with the disappearance of one of his troops; Randy is played by an amusingly unselfconscious Edward Norton, channeling his inner doofus. Also on the hunt for Sam and Suzy is Captain Sharp, the island's lone authority figure who usually doesn't have much at all to actually do. As it's Bruce Willis playing Sharp, we figure initially that he'll bring a sternness to the character, but this is Willis in sad, middle-aged mode, and it's always refreshing to see the actor when he's stripped of tough guy pretension and displaying a tender, mopey side.

Captain Sharp can in fact relate to Sam's predicament; he's in love too, but his love is tied up in a conundrum even greater than Sam's – he loves Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand), a lawyer with whom he's having a casual affair with. Laura is married to another sadsack, Walt, who is played by Bill Murray as the sort of desperate academic that Anderson cherishes casting him as. Walt knows there's something up between Laura and Captain Sharp, but he's almost too depressed to do anything about it. The disappearance of Suzy (Laura and Walt are Suzy's lawyer parents) ignites a small fire under the butts of these people, but naturally they're hardly as mature as the children they're looking for.

MOONRISE KINGDOM (the origin of the title, by the way, is a lovely little unspoken surprise) doesn't milk this scenario for obvious set-pieces or dramatic reconcilings; nor would you expect it to with Anderson telling the story. His presentation is whimsical yet matter-of-fact and short on heavy-breathing or hysteria; it's like a fantasy as told by a psychoanalyst. But that doesn't mean it's not fun. Anderson is most likely having a ball crafting his oddities, and he passes on the enjoyment to us in a very palpable way. He's one of those filmmakers who seems to make movies for his own amusement, and if you like them too, hey, that's great.

As always, the director has delivered a very unique-looking and immaculate production; he makes the composition of each sequence as vital as the story. The director loves to populate his frame with visual quips and hidden charms; much effort is put into the design, music and small nuances of every moment. A conversation between two people is never simply staged, there's always something else going on to appreciate; Anderson would rather have the talk take place next to a trampoline and toss off an absurd visual. His eye for detail and appreciation for the nonsensical make for a great combination here.

It's a serious treat to watch a director in complete control of his medium the way Anderson is here; he's nailed it in casting, he's molded his personal visual style to perfection and he's taken great pains to guide us through a very unorthodox, very lovable story of two unorthodox, lovable youngsters. MOONRISE KINGDOM is easily one of the best movies so far this year.

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Extra Tidbit: MOONRISE KINGDOM opens in NY and LA on MAY 25th; it opens nationwide in June.
Source: JoBlo.com

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