By Inspector Spacetime
Moonrise Kingdom is the latest finely crafted addition to Wes Anderson’s oeuvre. Speaking as an avowed Wes Anderson skeptic, Moonrise Kingdom may be the most persuasive argument yet for his OCD style of filmmaking. His immaculate control is on full display but, on this occasion, it feels like more than a mere exercise in aesthetics.
Set in 1965 in the fictional island community of New Penzance, the plot revolves around two young outcasts, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), who run away together. Of course, since they live on an island, there’s only so far they can go, but their disappearance has a profound effect on the community around them.
With the town on high alert and a manhunt underway, Sam and Suzy’s adventure takes on a note of grand tragedy: they’re young enough to imbue their doomed mission with a touching veneer of innocence, yet old enough to be aware of their outsider status, which makes their inevitable return to civilization all the more poignant. It’s a testimony to Anderson’s skill as a director that he’s able to coax such mature performances from his young leads, assisted by the highly stylized dialogue that has become one of the hallmarks of his films. The supporting cast includes Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand and Bruce Willis, among others, and there isn’t a weak link among them.
With its two precocious leads, insular island setting and retro styling, Moonrise Kingdom could easily have become a whimsical indulgence. But there’s an undercurrent of darkness running through the film. Anderson uses his stylistic strengths to deliver what amounts to a cutting commentary on the failure of the great American institutions in the face of the wave of social changes that swept through society in the 1960s. It’s no coincidence that Suzy flees from her family while Sam makes his escape from his Khaki Scout troop or that the story comes to a head in a church; one by one, the institutions of New Penzance fail to understand the outsiders in their midst.
Of course, because Moonrise Kingdom functions essentially as a counter-cultural fairytale, everything gets resolved a bit too neatly. Then again, Anderson has never made any claims to realism, and the film’s sharp edge is only slightly dulled by the sugar-coated ending. As a fusion of style and substance, Moonrise Kingdom succeeds. It’s convincing for skeptics but for long-time Wes Anderson fans, it’s mannered from Heaven.
A pop-culture obsessive armed with lasers and a carefully chosen turn-of-phrase. The Inspector has spent years developing an advanced system whereby only the finest movies, TV shows, books and events are able to evade his carefully-calibrated sensors. Those that make it through will be elevated, celebrated, venerated, and generally enthused about online. Those that don’t will be incinerated.