From movies like Little Miss Sunshine and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to performers like Zooey Deschanel and Michael Cera, it seems that the movie industry has fully embraced the concept of “quirky.” Turn on a TV or visit a theater and you’re likely to find a quirky comedy or a movie starring a confirmed quirk artist. But before the Quirky Craze overtook Hollywood, there was Wes Anderson, standing almost alone among his mainstream contemporaries, presenting the world with his weird and brilliant outlook on life. With Moonrise Kingdom, the Godfather of Quirk returns from a five year hiatus from live action movies with what might just be his best offering yet.
The year is 1965 and the setting is an island off the coast of New England. Having fallen in love the summer before, Sam (Jared Gilman), a troubled Khaki Scout sent to Camp Ivanhoe by his foster parents, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), an equally troubled resident of the island, decide to run away together and begin making their way to an idyllic cove. Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and island police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) begin the pursuit for the two pre-teens and are soon joined in the hunt by Suzy’s parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray). Sam and Suzy prove to be a difficult pair to wrangle, however, and with a tropical storm on the horizon and Social Services (Tilda Swinton) on the way to take possession of Sam, the manhunt takes some odd twists and turns that only deepen the level of devotion between the star-crossed lovers.
Moonrise Kingdom is the type of film that I could write 2,000 words on and still not do it justice. As with so many of Anderson’s films, it is a layered piece of storytelling covered up with a sweet, simple candy shell. I’m not sure anyone is better than Anderson at providing quick and concise backstories that give you all the information you really need to take in the film while simultaneously opening up a much wider reality if you want to delve into it. You can enjoy Moonrise Kingdom on its surface as a wholly endearing if offbeat love story or, if you choose, you can dig into the complexity of the characters and revel in the detailed world that Anderson has created. And best of all, the film works on every level. It is just as much fun to follow Sam and Suzy with the good intentioned but somewhat bumbling search party on their heels as it is to revel in the immense elaborateness of the big picture. Is it a character study or a romance? Is it a comedy or a family drama? The answer is yes and I love that about this film (and pretty much all of Anderson’s other entries).
The true stroke of genius at work in Moonrise Kingdom is in the usage of complete unknowns Gilman and Hayward in the leading roles. Neither of these youngsters has ever appeared in a film before but you would never know that if there weren’t such a thing as IMDB. That is due in part to their own respective abilities, which are undeniable; both of these kids have star potential. But it is also due in large part to the way in which Anderson positions them, never asking them to do too much or to carry the film on their own. More often than not, when you have a movie led by young actors, that movie lives or dies by the quality of their performances. That’s a lot of pressure to put on youthful shoulders. But here, Anderson gives them clearly defined moments to shine and then supplements them the rest of the way with incredible support from the known actors. I expect Murray to be great in this world because he is, of course, a veteran to Anderson’s way of doing things but for once the new blood, Norton, Willis, and McDormand, is even better than the regular crew that works with Anderson. This is the best work than any of these three have done in years and each of them adapts to the quirkiness of both story and characters extremely well. As such, Moonrise Kingdom would have been a success even if Gilman and Hayward weren’t excellent, which they were.
For my money, the thing that sets Moonrise Kingdom apart from some of Anderson’s previous films is that it is complete; whereas I’ve felt that many of Anderson’s other ventures haven’t been cooked all the way through, despite my adoration for the man as both writer and director. This film flows beautifully from scene to scene, line to line, and presents itself as a whole rather than a collection of great characters and cool scenes that sometimes don’t fit together perfectly. If you surveyed ten viewers and asked them what their favorite part, line, or character was, you’re likely to get ten different answers and each of them would be valid. Moonrise Kingdom is a fantastic, outrageously fun film that will do nothing but grow the weird, quirky, brilliant legacy of West Anderson and his team of cohorts.