The big secret about Wes Anderson’s endearing “Moonrise Kingdom” is that it’s ultimately a fable about loneliness and coming to terms with that.
The big secret about Wes Anderson’s endearing “Moonrise Kingdom” is that it’s ultimately a fable about loneliness and coming to terms with that. Nobody is connecting as much as interacting in their presumed roles while nursing their own lost emotions and trying to fix a presumed wrong. Sometimes there is truth in young love and naivety; and with its melancholic undertow certainly rewards that notion.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is a romance-adventure tale set in the 1960s that follows two 12-year-olds who run away together after previously meeting backstage during a play earlier in the year. Played by two newcomers, Suzy (Kara Hayward) who lives with her stuck in a rut family (along the New England shore of a fictional island named New Penzance) and Sam (Jared Gilman) who is an oddball orphan and a misfit boy scout who neither feel allegiance to their respected parties but to their alienation and infatuation with each other.
Both children are followed by Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam’s scout master Ward (Edward Norton), and a Police Captain (Bruce Willis) whose also enlisted to find the two lovers before something should happen. “Moonrise Kingdom” is quite the ensemble that also includes Tilda Swinton as an intimidating social service worker and Jason Schwartzman as a scout leader Cousin Ben who can perform wedding ceremonies. It’s the typical quirk you’ve come to expect with Anderson but still well defined characters performed with grace and charm.
The cast is wonderful along with the two new leads who end up stealing the show and make for memorable heroes. The film is perhaps the most well rounded so far in Anderson’s canon as it seems to have everything you’d expect from him and executed so strikingly; it just never is a departure of anything he has already done. Anderson chose to shoot the film in 16mm, mimicking the films he so closely follows from the 1960s and French New Wave that creates the perfect excuse to do so.
“Moonrise Kingdom” finally comes to The Criterion Collection on the last day of summer only after a few mysterious delays. Just as previous Wes Anderson releases from Criterion, they really went above and beyond with the design, packaging, and supplemental materials assembled around the film. The feature commentary is easily my favorite inclusion as it gathers Anderson himself, Jake Ryan (Lionel), Criterion’s President Peter Beckler, and phone calls from Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and co-writer Roman Coppola. It’s very light, informative, funny, and rarely boring. It’s amazing to know that Bill Murray might have the largest single collection of Anderson’s first feature “Bottle Rocket”, which he still hasn’t watched, but people keep sending him copies to view. It’s the little absurdities, asides, and non-sequiturs that undoubtedly make this a highlight of any Criterion released this year.
Also included is an animatic for selected scenes, interviews with cast and crew, a documentary made during filming (in French for flavor), Edward Norton’s iPhone “home movies” made with a 16mm app to give it that perfect aesthetical tribute to the film, Murray showing off the various sets, auditions, short film for the movie, animated shorts, and the trailer. Also included is a postcard featuring the cast, a map of the fictional island, and our very own copy of “Indian Corn” that is somewhat featured in the film.
It includes the paintings (yes, the nude ones as well) from Sam, an essay from film critic Geoffrey O’Brien, critiques and observations of the film from actual 12-year-old writers, and artwork for the fake novels that Suzy reads, and a flyer for Benjamin Britten’s “Noyes Fludde” featured in the film. The cover artwork by Michael Gaskell is simply marvelous. Just like the previous Anderson releases on Criterion, this is very complimentary assortment to devour.
Once you embrace Anderson’s lush worlds, they really do pull you in on their fluid and clever framing. He’s an expertly tight world builder that never wastes a character, background, or line. Despite every Anderson film’s level of illustrious preciousness, you can see what a labor of intense love of film he is displaying, which is a big reason why Anderson’s movies are celebrated by Criterion and typically most film critics alike.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is a pronounced example that Anderson is actually improving his craft and precision as a filmmaker while not slowing down when it comes to bolstering his stylistic ideas and flairs. While the multitude of familiar themes run throughout all of his films, they are skillfully shifted around every time; it doesn’t feel like the same story is being retold. Anderson loves exploring “rebel” characters that defy the world around them to some naïve extent with some delusions of grandeur.
What keeps this, and what would be considered rather dark if given a different framing, returning exploration of broken families, star-crossed lovers, homespun fancy, and a heightened sense of the world is his ability to craft his stories well and delivering a good amount of emotional depth, eccentricities, and wit. His detractors will find nothing relatively new to admire, as Anderson seemed to only get a second wind creatively along with plenty of adulation, as his prepubescent romantic adventure is exquisitely rudimentary for him.
Moonrise Kingdom (U.S.)
Available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Hulu Plus via The Criterion Collection