If you've yet to familiarize yourself with the world of Wes Anderson, now would be as good a time as any to do so.
Anderson is known for the distinct style and feel that all of his films, including 2009's animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, possess with varying degree. With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson may have created, for lack of a better description, his most "Wes Anderson" film to date.
Yet it may also be his most easily accessible as well. The PG-13 rating (the first of his career) combined with the nostalgic story of young love and a cast made up of familiar faces along with some new additions to the Anderson family (including Bruce Willis and Edward Norton) should allow Moonrise Kingdom to reach a wider audience without sacrificing the signature aesthetics, cinematography, characters and humor that make his movies so unique.
(By the way, two young actors from the film hail from nearby Maplewood and South Orange; read about the local premiere .)
If you are a fan of his work already, than there is really no reason to think that you won't greatly enjoy this. And if you've seen some of Anderson's more well-known works like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums and aren't a fan, than Moonrise Kingdom clearly wasn't made with you in mind.
Set in the mid-1960s in a sparsely populated island off the New England coast, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of Sam and Suzy (newcomers and Kara Hayward), two runaway, outcast 12 year olds who find companionship and first love in one another while a local search party desperately tries to find them.
After more than a year of correspondence, Sam, the least popular member of his "Khaki Scout" troop from Camp Ivanhoe, and Suzy, the eldest and most problematic of Walt and Laura Bishop's children (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, respectively) abandon their guardians and set out into the wilderness without much more than each other, Sam's woodsman skills and Suzy's suitcase full of children's books.
The search party, including Suzy's parents, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and local police Captain Sharp set out to find the ambitious lovebirds before a record-setting hurricane wreaks havoc on the island. As the storm gets more and more out of control, so does the adventure.
While not really anything new or out of the ordinary by Anderson's standards, Moonrise Kingdom is his best live action film since 2001s The Royal Tenenbaums, and possibly since 1998s career-defining Rushmore. Like we've come to expect, Anderson's vision is so quirky that it's borderline pretentious.
Despite this, you can't help feeling charmed when all is said and done. The movie is led by the two kids, which was quite a risk considering neither had acted before, and considering that kids who lead movies often wind up annoying audiences by the end (at least that's usually the case with me anyway). Neither potential hurdle is an issue here.
Both Gilman and Hayward seem as if they were born to play Anderson characters. They possess the straight-faced, deadpan humor required for the parts and are able to convey it with surprising believability.
I left the theater almost believing that the two were as oddball as their characters. This is a testament to the writing of Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola, particular in their character creation.
As the story unfolds, the plot becomes increasingly far-fetched, ultimately resembling one of the children's books that Suzy is so fond of. The lack of plausibility in the overall story never really becomes an issue because, despite the fact that individual moments/characters/conversations in Anderson's films are completely relatable, his final products are often intended to resemble something more of a fairy-tale.
The adults that support the children are predictably great. I mean, when you've got Murray, Norton, Willis, McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman at your disposal, it'd be pretty hard to screw the thing up.
Despite the humor that permeates throughout, most of the characters deal with their share of heavier material as well. Willis, in particular, shines in some of the more heartfelt moments.
Anderson's technical craft is as meticulous as ever. Each set piece and costume is perfectly designed and organized and his signature affinity for shooting his subjects straight on may be more evident than ever, as is his use of miniatures. There are a handful of those recognizable parallel tracking shots and Anderson even managed to throw in his obligatory slow-motion sequence. In lesser hands, all of this becomes tedious and unnecessary. Not here.
Moonrise Kingdom is the first must see of 2012 (that I've seen). When it goes into wide release, do yourself a favor and go see it.
Moonrise Kingdom is a little harder to find that your typical summer blockbuster, so you may need to travel a bit farther for this bit of cinema whimsy. Locally, Moonrise Kingdom is playing at the Cranford Theatre (showtimes here); at Roberts Chatham Cinema (showtimes here); and at the CJM Maplewood Sixplex (showtimes here).