Friday, June 29, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Grade: 96 (A)

Wes Anderson is one of those rare directors who sees the world in a way no one else can (although plenty of paltry imitators have tried), and should be cherished for it. His latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, shows all of the usual Anderson trademarks: meticulously designed homes and costumes, an odd assortment of quirky outcasts, a killer soundtrack, and a great deadpan sense of humor. But what makes Anderson’s films work, above all else, is how he balances the whimsy with shades of melancholy. Moonrise Kingdom is his finest effort since his twin masterpieces Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, and the best movie of the year so far.

Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a 12-year-old misfit orphan and part of the Khaki Scout summer camp in New England. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is a moody rich girl whose attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are clearly unhappy in their marriage. When Sam and Suzy meet, they instantly bond over their shared disillusionment among their peers. The two run away together and spend several days camping out and falling in love. But Suzy’s parents blame Sam for “kidnapping” their daughter, while the more sympathetic Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), who’s going through an existential crisis, and lonely Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who’s sleeping with Mrs. Bishop, want to find Sam before Social Services (represented by a prim and proper Tilda Swinton) can put the troubled boy into a mental ward.

Anderson’s characters are so strong that it’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever drop the ball in one of his films, but credit has to go to the cast for their uniformly terrific performances. Young Gilman and Hayward join the ranks of strong child performances in Anderson’s filmography, and they’d rate damn near the top. Both are plenty precocious, but they balance their sophistication with a sense that they’re misfits for a reason. Both kids are given to lash out at others, sometimes violently (Anderson packs in some dark humor about kids attacking each other)- there’s never a sense that they have to be angelic just because they’re children. They can be a little bit dangerous. Yet they’re kids above all else, and their romance is essentially innocent and sweet-natured (I particularly loved their dance to the French pop song “Le Temps de l’Amour”). Equally strong are the adults, particularly Willis in his best performance in years and Norton as the resident Anderson surrogate.

What sets Moonrise Kingdom apart from other tales of young love is the sense that Anderson knows childhood isn’t all fun and games. These children might not mean anyone harm, but they can have mean streaks (Gilman’s red-headed rival in particular) or a profound sense of loneliness. Sam and Suzy feel that, and they hope that their lives will be different than that of the adults, be they Norton and Willis’ lonesome community leaders or Murray and McDormand, who seem just as lonely and miserable in their marriage. But Anderson’s films are never dirges- they’re gorgeous, hilarious, and full of life, two parts Francois Truffaut and one part Charlie Brown. 

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