The Cinematic Dimension: 'Moonrise Kingdom' by Wes Anderson

A romantic review of a romantic film about romance

No matter how tiring or trying our day is, we know what puts us in a good mood.  For me, from a young age, movies have held this power: they provide a fascinating space that you sink into, that you simmer within, that you let wash over you. Shorter than books, longer than albums, less demanding than video games, movies are an amazing self-contained medium. To honor this, and to celebrate the film Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson, I am creating a fourth blog segment, The Cinematic Dimension.

Back in 2007, while waiting in line for The Darjeeling Limited, I was within earshot of many identical conversations: fickle youth claiming they liked Rushmore but disliked The Royal Tenenbaums, or they enjoyed Bottle Rocket but didn't care for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and so on. I couldn't relate — when I fall for a director, I tend to love wholeheartedly and split no hairs.  For those keeping an Anderson checklist, I quite liked Bottle Rocket, really liked The Life Aquatic, loved The Royal Tenenbaums, truly loved The Darjeeling Limited and Hotel Chevalier, was delighted by Fantastic Mr. Fox. And, finally, Moonrise Kingdom? It blew me away. Moonrise Kingdom is the best movie.

I've used this phrase a few times, and it's been met with questions: the best of Anderson's movies? The best movie of all time? My response: Yeah yeah, sure, that too. Somehow, the phrase summarizes my feelings exactly. Moonrise Kingdom is the best movie.

Wes Anderson's iconic style is apparent here: a brilliant wedding of stylish soundtrack and vivid cinematography. Here, as in his other films, the camera offers us strange, wonderful objects, distinct costumes and makeup, killer shots and angles, and spaces filled with careful song selections. The cast couldn't be more perfect, star-studded with Anderson newcomers and regulars, all of whom are wonderful. They, and Suzy's brothers, and Sam's fellow scouts, and all the rest, make up the kind of charming, quirky, funny, touching ensemble that is, again, a staple of Wes Anderson movies. In all these ways and many more, the film is exactly what we love and have come to expect of his work. The immense difference with Moonrise Kingdom is its story and the marvelous actors at the center of it: Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the runaway young lovers Sam and Suzy.

While Wes Anderson's cinematic style is as strong as before, the screenplay (co-written by Roman Coppola) throws his old story styles out the window. The focus isn't on washed-up old men or alienated young men reuniting fragmented communities — Moonrise Kingdom has all that, but it delegates these sub-plots to the sub-characters. Meanwhile, we zoom in on the union of Sam and Suzy, their escape from their respective repressive microcosms, and their abrupt discovery of young love.

Suddenly we have innocent protagonists: even with difficult upbringings, these 12-year-olds are immediately lovable, more so than Max, Steve, Royal and the Whitman brothers, combined. Suzy and Sam win our sympathy from the outset and we're committed to them without hesitation or doubt. Their characters are as well-defined as previous protagonists, but their lower moments make them more likable instead of less. Gone is the hero making up for past mistakes — behold, our hero and heroine overcome personal demons and external obstacles for the sake of a remorseless, committed, adorable romance.

From the visuals to the audio, from the people to the gorgeous New England setting itself, Wes Anderson has given us more of what we like as well as something new. He's (co-)written a story that can be silly and serious and wise all at once, and his actors have brought vibrant life to every inch of it. I spent all 94 minutes either gaping in awe, cringing in concerned shock, smiling a dopey smile of joy or busting up laughing. The whole bloody thing was like this! There was no dull moment, no time to second-guess my sensations or weigh it against some previous film — I was too busy enjoying this one. Really. Moonrise Kingdom is the best movie.

Here's the trailer.

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david mahoney June 04, 2012 at 06:15 AM
Anderson has been a mixed bag for me I've realy loved some of his films and look forward to 'Moonrise Kingdom'. However I can't stand some of his films and found 'The Royal Tenenbaums' a major disappointment and vastly overrated. It's quirkiness felt very staged, contrived, forced, and added to the film only for the sake of being quirky. The characters felt very one dimensional and underdeveloped quirky and roboticly detached but uninteresting and not very likable and the dialogue was often unbelievable Finally, as grown man who is adopted I found the incestuous subplot an offensive and obtuse yet laughable pubescent like fantasy that just about every guy who isn't adopted has about having a hot adopted sister. Lame. I hope, and it seems clear from reviews, that Anderson delivers in 'Moonrise Kingdom' and avoids quirky nonsense.
Benjamin Kahane June 04, 2012 at 06:27 AM
Despite my love of The Royal Tenenbaums, your concerns are totally justified - and if its any consolation, those same fears will be immediately extinguished within the first five minutes of Moonrise Kingdom. : ) A large part of it is due to the inclusion of Bob Balaban - his role in the film is the perfect touch, not too heavy-handed but not too distant, I'll say that much. One thing that caught my attention, time and again, was the honesty of the acting and how well the screenplay expressed it. If one-dimensionality is a concern, I think I can safely say they are not to be found here. :D
Kristen H. June 05, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Thanks for the review. I wish this movie (and more like it) would run at the Alameda Theater. Their indie offerings are truly few and far between.
Benjamin Kahane June 06, 2012 at 04:33 PM
I know! I'm of much the same mind. But then, I've spent so long near downtown Berkeley, I'm sort of spoiled by the whole "Three Theaters within Backflipping Distance of One Another" thing. At least it'll be at the California Theater this Friday ... not Alameda, but East Bay ... baby steps. : )
Eugene June 29, 2012 at 06:39 AM
I went and watched "Moonrise Kingdom" the other night- viewing #2- partly for the joy of it, but partly to confirm my first impression, that it was indeed "the best movie." i also wanted to try and sort out why this movie, this goofy movie, moved me so. All of it worked the second time around: the earnest, young central characters, the odd yet familiar trappings of New England seacoast life and the tone that, for me, grew from Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox." But here's what came to mind from this happy re-visit: "Moonrise" gave me the satisfaction I've longed for from "The Catcher in the Rye." In both stories children are in trouble, but where Holden only somewhat is saved in the end, Sam and Suzy are back home, rescued by parents made more wise from the adventure. I felt good at the end of "Moonrise," as if when Suzy blew Sam a kiss from her window, she was sharing some of it with me as well, saying she's okay, the pamphlet's been put away, and her brother forgave her for the record player.


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