Or: “No one can grant you happiness. Happiness is a choice we all have the power to make.”, Dean Koontz
Ask any person with a slightly offbeat sense of humor which are his/her favorite comedies and (s)he will no doubt mention at least one Wes Anderson movie, be it either The Royal Tenenbaums or The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. You might even find The Darjeeling Limited or The Fantastic Mr. Fox on that list. If that person doesn’t have at least one of these on the list, then you need to think hard about what sort of sad people you know.
Moonrise Kingdom, while not perfect and slightly less accomplished than my favorite Anderson movie, The Life Aquatic, is still a perfect contender for a spot on the aforementioned fictitious list – let’s face it, in how many movies the wonderful Tilda Swinton plays a character named Social Services? Or in what movies Edward Norton is a Scout Master and Bruce Willis a dopey, mopey and slightly dumb police man (I said police man, not psychiatrist so Color of Night does not count here)?
Set in the mid-1960s on an island, during summer, Moonrise Kingdom is a charming tale of puppy love turned real love of two unpopular kids that run away to live on their own. Sam (Jared Gilman) is the orphan whose foster family decides to sever all ties with (in a side-splitting scene featuring a dumbstruck Bruce Willis and an even more perplexed Edward Norton), while Suzy (Kara Hayward) is the depressed 12 year old that suffers from existential and familial ennui. Add to the mix Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s parents, with a dash of small-town secret meetings and Jason Schwartzman as a borderline homosexual camp counselor (I guess that’s what he was…I never went to camp) and Anderson has the recipe for one heck of a lovely movie about eloping youngsters in love.
And lovely it truly is. You can fault it for some things (I wished for more Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton) but there’s no way that this movie won’t tug a heart string or two. First off, it looks like a series of vintage postcards (the signature watercolor look, as I like to call it, of Wes Anderson movies), with lush scenery and interiors that look like the ones found in doll houses. Second of all, the youngsters are very endearing and they channel their characters angst and awkwardness in a masterful fashion. While none of them would openly admit it, they’re both affected by their families (or lack thereof) and they feel, at first, out of place even when there’s only the two of them.
Once the initial puppy love wears off and their romance starts to mature, they’re faced with the daunting task (of which they were fully aware of when they set out on their journey to Moonrise Kingdom) of eluding the adults and their minions that come in the form of boy scouts that have quite a bone to pick with Sam. In the backdrop of all this is an oncoming storm (as explained by the Cousteau-esque narrator) of biblical proportions which, once it starts to blast everything in its way, is used as a cute plot device in order to bring closure to the characters and their quirky trek.
Anderson continues to demonstrate a steady hand here, on his 7th feature – I guess it’s not an easy task to work with child actors – but I would have liked to see more of Suzy’s family and their daily lives or a bit more depth to Tilda Swinton’s Social Services character, even though I’m well aware it’s the children’s story, not the adults’. Here’s hoping for an extended edition that will cover this and, even if it won’t be the case, this is still a remarkable and adorable movie and one of my favorites for 2012.