DISCLAIMER: If you don’t like Wes Anderson’s style, then you probably won’t like Moonrise Kingdom, so you don’t have to read this. Then again, you might like it better than his other movies — the emotions of the characters are a little closer to the surface, a little more accessible and direct.
Critics often say that they hate how cute and/or curated Anderson’s films are, and I’m happy to say that these criticisms haven’t watered down his style. In fact, in Moonrise Kingdom he applies it almost with a vengeance: opening overview of setting, with narrator/guide? Check! Slow-motion group exit/entrance at emotionally climactic moment? Check. Retro zoom up to main character(s)? In yo face. Specially created artwork (in this case, middle-grade fantasy book covers)? Check. And because it’s all applied to a world of camping and tweens with outsize emotions in their limited-by-adults world, these touchstones seem simultaneously more absurd and more fitting.
I think that the trailer doesn’t really do it justice:
It highlights the not-quite natural acting of the main characters and the twee-ness of the adventure without giving us a taste of the heart that’s in the film. Not to mention the homey beauty of the island where it’s set, featuring a sunset canoe escape/weather balloon release of such hauntingness that it’s hard to describe. (In other scenes I’d point to the spot-on use of children’s choir pieces to add to the atmosphere, but I don’t think that they were used in that particular scene. Children’s choir!)
Clearly this is a film to be seen by lovers of a good coming-of-age story — Sam and Suzy are, after all, two 12 year olds who fall in love and run away together. The mood of heat infused August that opens the film leads to September chill and dusk as they struggle to stay together against the forces of their parents, Social Services, axe-wielding Khaki Scouts and, finally, nature itself. But Sam and Suzy start out in love and (SPOILER ALERT) end up in love. It’s wonderful to watch them because of their determination and the growth of their friendship–thank God we have children playing children and not 20 year olds–you can tell that their awkwardness is genuine and that their kiss is really their first kiss (Really!) But the characters that are revealed to us the more the film goes on are the adults – Mr. & Mrs. Bishop, Scout Master Ward, and Captain Sharp. There’s some heavy stuff in their short lines of dialogue and tilts of the head, no matter how Stoic their line delivery.
And that’s what kept me glued to the screen as I watched Moonrise Kingdom. Even when the chase at the end got almost hokey in its Biblical magnitude or when Suzy’s revelation of her troubled feelings started seeming too boilerplate, the whole sweeping rest of it allowed me to forget about those things and invest myself in Anderson’s world. It has a sweet heart, but it doesn’t shy away from showing heartbreaking things.
It could be that I can easily layer my experiences at summer camp or hiking in woods full of rhododendrons and blocky drops of rock over the scenes of camping and hiking in Moonrise Kingdom. Although I love the other films in the Anderson oeuvre, I was never a genius child growing up in a house with genius brothers and sisters, or an ambitious boarding school playwright, or never traveled via train through India, etc. etc. So Moonrise Kingdom was bound to have more immediacy to me. I could feel the unmistakeably dewy coldness of waking up in a tent in the early morning, as it were.
Or maybe I just want to have grown up in Summer’s End, listening to A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and reading in the choicest window seats.
Find some of the elements in Moonrise Kingdom in these films:
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): languid mystery happens during a hike in the Australian scrub. You can almost see the heat waves.
Addams Family Values (1993): Thanksgiving camp scene. Wednesday Addam’s first crush. Clear precursors to Moonrise Kingdom.
Romeo + Juliet (1996): Classic fierce young love reimagined in California, and a righteous storm at the end of the movie.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953): a vacation at the beach where no one can relax.
Cria Cuervos (1976): If you want less love and more dysfunction try this mesrmerizing look at seriously unhappy children, family secrets and a killer soundtrack in Franco-era Spain.