Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) expects it to be just another day of camping, leading, and teaching his fellow Khaki Scouts in Camp Ivanhoe. During breakfast, however, he notices that one of his students is missing from the table, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), the least popular among his peers. A letter of resignation is found in his tent, leaving everyone at a loss as to why he’s done such a thing. With a storm rapidly approaching, expected to arrive in three days, a search party is formed to get Sam to safety.

“Moonrise Kingdom,” written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, offers a distinctive style and vision, its images cutely retro, appropriately dyed with a golden yellowish tinge, so fitting considering its 1965 milieu. And while it is an absolute pleasure to look at because of the vintage clothing, old school gadgets, and its loving attention to nature, it has a voyeuristic element about it that at times it feels like looking into a personal memory of a boy experiencing his first romance with a girl named Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), his perfect, at least for the time being, other half in that both have their share of imperfections, weirdness, and awkwardness.

When the picture focuses on the duo’s excursions around the beautiful island of New Penzance, it is at its most engaging. The script, as should be expected from a Wes Anderson film, has its own rhythm, sometimes a bit obfuscated in that it challenges our minds to drill into exactly what is being communicated. The lack of range in terms of evoking precise emotions between Gilman and Hayward work because a case can be made that Sam and Suzy are still trying to figure out who they are. Sometimes I wondered if their idea of romance is a reflection of pop culture at the time which supports their mindset of running away together and living happily ever after. Their youth has a potent spark, fueled by their need to connect with someone willing to listen and embrace because they feel like outcasts in their respective worlds.

Unfortunately, the film entertains far too many subplots and each one is not given sufficient time to be nurtured. The only strand that works involves Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray), Suzy’s parents, who tolerate a near passionless marriage, deciding to stay together for the sake of their children. Their one scene in the bedroom, occupying different beds, communicates a sadness with an underlying air of apathy—an emotion that holds more bite than hatred—that it dares the viewers to wish they would lash out on one another. At least then they may not have to guess what the other is thinking. Despite their current unhappiness, we can accept the possibility that they were probably very much in love when they were young which directly ties back to the Khaki Scout and his pen pal.

What does not work at all is the affair between Laura and a Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the cop who leads the search. Their interactions are supposed to be comic but I found them boring and lacking in energy. Perhaps this might be attributed to the Captain’s Sharp’s story—which is too broad, not containing enough specific details to warrant belief that he is a beacon of hope even though he has had his share of problems.

Further, when the storm arrives in the back half of the picture, the chaos that ensues is only mildly interesting. It is off-putting that the balance between visuals and heart is thrown out the window, heavily relying on the strength of the former while the latter is slowly reduced to a footnote until it is convenient to wring out syrupy emotions for the audience. Director Wes Anderson has a habit of doing this to his projects and it is a great frustration.

9 replies »

    • Dude, yes.

      I have to say that even though I don’t consider myself a Wes Anderson fan, I did like or admire some of his (earlier) movies. There’s no denying that he has a specific and creative vision. From the looks of his movies, it’s easy to tell that he has to get the details just right. And I like that; I understand it because I’m anal-retentive. HOWEVER…

      This movie is one of my biggest disappointments of the year despite the hype that surrounded it. It started off quite good in setting up some of its themes, one of which involving Sam and Suzy learning to mature up to a point. I liked their interactions and found their exchanges amusing. But the majority of the second half was underwhelming, insular trifle: the storm reeked of heavy-handed symbolism, the relationships forged (and broken) felt phony, and the accessibility of the material, on an emotional and visual level, was dropped–at times for the sake of “precious fussiness” as mentioned in your review.

      I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, just a… tolerable one.

  1. I’m severely with Mark on this one. The fact that you say this is “just a… tolerable one” is absolutely saddening. I LOVED Moonrise Kingdom. I always get asked, “What’s your favorite film of the year?”, and this year, it’s easily this one. They ask, “So it’s as good as everyone’s saying?” “No, it’s even better.” I’m not a Wes Anderson fan either (I loved this but didn’t really care much for Rushmore), so I can see what you’re saying in that respect, but…seems I’ve already said I love it.

    • Hopefully, upon multiple viewings (I get the feeling this is the type of movie that can be played on ABC Family or something quite often) that it grows on me.

      In the meantime, though, I remain with the minority on this one–just like I am with “The Prestige.” =p

  2. Franz,

    while I seem to admire the movie a lot more than you (it’s my #4 for the year so far), I just have to take issue with the tone of some of the above commenters. Your review was fair and you laid out your reservations openly, and the subjective nature of film criticism thankfully means that we will not always agree. To simply state that they “love the film” is not a particularly interesting point to make.

    On my part I agree with you that the central love story at the movie’s core is the plotline that works best, and the one that elevates the movie for me. I also enjoyed the somewhat sad edge to the Bill Murray/Frances McDormand. Scene by scene, I think this movie had a sprawling at this nostalgic energy, which gave the needed “authenticity” to the always highly stylized wisdom-beyond-their-years quality of Anderson’s young characters. In fact, I think the Romeo and Juliet feel of the central story was the first time a WA managed to truly make me root for his protagonists on a more fundamental level. As for the more peripheral characters (like Norton, Schwartzman and Willis), I thought they were played with a right mix of humor and melancholy to support the central mood of the story.

    Like you, I have been torn on most of WA’s previous movies: While Rushmore is still a quirky masterpiece, Moonrise is his most heartfelt movie, and Bottle Rocket has some of the best lines of his ouvre (“Bob’s gone. He stole his car!”, I was to varying degrees disappointed by The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and I actively disliked the aggressively quirky Royal Tenenbaums and Darjeeling Limited.

    • Thank you! It’s nice to hear from someone so fair-minded around here. ;)

      Honestly, I can see why the movie appeals to a lot of people, both young and not-so-young, because it does have good moments. 1) It triggered my memories of childhood and it made me hopeful for the future. 2) At times it made me think about expectations: what is expected of friendship, what is expected of children Sam and Suzy’s age, and what is expected of first romantic love. I almost gave it a 3 out of 4 for its ideas, truly sumptuous images, and the screenplay’s willingness to try something different. But that third act really rubbed me the wrong way because, in my eyes, it’s so sloppily put together that, ultimately, I cannot feel good about recommending it to everyone.

      Also, It’s interesting that you mention the side characters and them having a good balance of humor and melancholy. One of the handful of things that really bothered me was that I felt they were one-dimensional. Yes, they were quirky but I didn’t see or feel something else to them like the melancholy aspect you cited (with the exception of Willis but only very slightly… like the scene when Sam stays at his home one night).

      Oh, god, “The Darjeeling Limited.” Let’s not go there. Hahaha. I remember watching that in college and I’m still mad that I wasted my time on it. I think I told you this before. I’m having deja vu. =p

Leave a Reply to Franz Patrick Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.