#9: Moonrise Kingdom
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand
I guess it is fitting that my review for Moonrise Kingdom falls on Valentine’s Day, as it is easily the best-told romance of 2012. The fact that it is a romance played out by two adolescents makes the film a true triumph in directing and shows what two actors, older than their ages suggest, can really do.
Moonrise Kingdom is patented Wes Anderson. To paraphrase Linus Van Pelt: “Of all the Wes Anderson movies in the world, this is the most Wes Anderson-iest.” With each passing film, Anderson has painted each frame more and more with his patented style. Somehow, however, he has been able to resist falling into the trap of self-parody; something I cannot say about Tim Burton, someone who also manages to have his own style, but fails to add substance in this stage of his career. Anderson manages to have something than merely window dressing and this film is easily his best in over a decade.
The film opens up with scout Sam running off on his troop and troop leader in order to meet up Suzy, a troubled girl he has exchanged letters with for quite some time. Their disappearance spins the small New England island and its residence into a tizzy as the adults form a search party to find both of them.
Not much back-story is given to the two star-crossed lovers’ and their relationship, but not much is there to give. We get a glimpse of them meeting before Suzy’s school play where Sam plants the uber-romantic “What kind of bird are YOU?” question on her. If this isn’t a pickup line in hipster neighborhoods yet, I just don’t understand the world around me. The line and how it is given is significant to the relationship because Sam must emphasize that the girl of his gaze is, in fact, Suzy, who allows the question to be answered by a more outgoing, possibly more popular girl. The rest of the relationship is a series of letters until they finally meet on the eventful day of their respective escapes, told in increasingly faster cuts.
The romance is the heart of the story and it’s a pretty good one. The two see a kindred spirit in each other, as they both feel like outcasts in both their families and social groups. It’s funny to watch them act like grown ups, as Sam smokes pipes and pretend to know how to survive on his own. It’s sort of the thing kids would do while playing house, mimicking something they’ve seen adults do and it’s endearing to see a romance to be portrayed as equal parts sincere and complete performance.
The film probably couldn’t hold up without credible performances by the leads. Luckily, both Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman give fine performances. Hayward’s performance in particular is a nuanced performance that foreshadows a long career ahead of her. This is a performance that many starlets ten years her senior couldn’t muster and is one that should be recognized this awards season. The supporting cast is star-studded, all of which give fine performances in some limited roles. Edward Norton, in particular, gives an earnest performance as Sam’s Scout Master really shines in a role we don’t usually see him in. For an actor that rose to popularity in dark roles like American History X and Fight Club, it’s comical to hear him utter the phrase “Jiminy Cricket!” all while wearing short pants and a neckerchief.
Moonrise Kingdom is one of the finest romances told in 2012 and the fact that it is involving two adolescents is remarkable. On the whole, the film is one of the strongest outings by one of the most unique directors working today.