Over the years I’ve come to dislike Wes Anderson’s style. Overly precious and highly stylized, Wes Anderson’s films have increasingly become too keen on askew musings and hollow caricatures. None of his films represent this more than The Darjeeling Limited, a silly road trip film that had unreachable characters. Sparse poignancy and visual panache dominated a film that pretended its journey explores stilted souls. Instead, it felt like it was aimlessly searching for a point. My interest and tumultuous love for Anderson has waxed and waned ever since, but after seeing his newest film, Moonrise Kingdom, I once again see the director who made me fall in love with his early efforts (e.g. Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums). Much like the rest of his films, Anderson hasn’t ventured too far off the idiosyncratic beaten path with Moonrise Kingdom. The only difference is that his eye for flair and ear for music wholly supplement the story at hand.
Through the introduction of a narrator, another Anderson trademark that lends itself to the fable about to unfold, we’re dropped into the middle of a boundless, torrid romance…between two young teens who call the New England coast their home in the mid-sixties. Our boy, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gillman), is a social oddity that possesses great mental dexterity, but little social relevance. Sam’s loner disposition has even found him being an alienating force in his excitable Boy Scout troupe, “The Khaki Scouts”. The rabbit hole to Sam’s heart is dug by Suzy Bishop (Kara Heyward), an even more distant youth that hopes to understand the arc of the world by the constant use of binoculars, a quirk that carries a surprising amount of resonance. Together, Sam and Suzy hatch a plan to leave their families, become husband and wife, and ascertain the throne of independence, where they can supplant their parent’s (or any other adult in their life) shortcomings. With their fleeting feet and hasty romance, Sam and Suzy are chased around the New England coast by a forlorn deputy (Bruce Willis), the Khaki Scouts (led by a hilariously square Edward Norton), and Suzy’s dysfunctional parents, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
I must say, Sam and Suzy’s trek to romantic prosperity is whimsical and endearing. Shot with a rosy hue that infects every frame, Moonrise Kingdom visually evokes an emotional response that harkens back to a shared youth. More specifically, we’re transported to a point in time where opportunities were endless. From the prism of a child’s mind, it’s only fitting that Sam and Suzy’s joyful jaunts are constantly threatened by adults, simply because adults are too far removed from the unbridled enthusiasm of adolescence. They’re firmly entrenched in the adult world, a place where time slips away and optimism grows weary with age. The parents fail to recognize the love blossoming between Sam and Suzy, and in turn, fail to harvest the ever-growing connection between the two star crossed lovers. Because of the deft writing by Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom not only has its children growing up before our eyes, but also gives its lumbering adults a chance to build a second coming of age tale for their selves.
The cast guiding Anderson’s effervescent film is impeccable, especially our two leads. Gillman as Sam is beyond assured, as he channels the moxie of James Dean and the common precociousness of a child. Kara Heyward as Suzy is tremendous. Mysterious, calculating and tender, Kara makes a memorable film debut that gives the film half of its heart. Of course, it certainly helps that Anderson’s style doesn’t over take the film. His penchant for cartoonish design and inhibition for normalcy elevate the material. From a ridiculously high tree fort to an offbeat first kiss, every moment of whimsy feels concocted from the minds of our youthful protagonists. Even though his crackling characters live in a fantastical world, Anderson has made Moonrise Kingdom genuinely affectionate. He simply crafted a story that captured unrequited love obtained and sustained by unusual means. We may never know characters as quirky as the ones we find in Moonrise Kingdom, but they undoubtedly possess the same heartfelt, fable like longing, romantic or otherwise, that permeates through our very lives.