Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray.
Wes Anderson has refined his particular visual aesthetic to the point where the opening sequence of Moonrise Kingdom comes across like a natural extension of his last film, the stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). In fact his trademark attention to detail borders on sensory overload as the camera pans up, down, and across the Bishop household circa 1965, finally focusing on eldest child Suzy (Kara Hayward). She’s constantly peering through a pair of binoculars and it’s eventually revealed who she’s watching: Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a boy scout she’s been secretly writing letters to after a chance encounter at a school play. They hatch an elaborate plan to run away together into the wilderness but being only twelve years old, their disappearance attracts the attention of Suzy’s parents, Sam’s scoutmaster, and the local police.
When people talk - positively or negatively - about Wes Anderson films, they’ll usually bring up those retro color schemes, the offbeat speech patterns of his characters, or the whimsical nature of the plots. What Anderson doesn’t get enough credit for though, is how innately funny his works are; there’s nothing art house about his brand of humor nor is he relying on an audience’s ingrained pop-culture sensibility. Like many of the youth in Moonrise Kingdom, the laughs that Anderson evokes are child-like in nature but under the guise of being more mature than they actually are.
The performances here are great. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are both fun to watch as the young, young lovers; together they do a fine job capturing the essence of Anderson’s dialogue (they’re understandably less comfortable with another of Anderson’s trademarks: holding a blank expression while facing straight towards the camera). Bill Murray and Bruce Willis amusingly play against type, the former doing away with his sardonic mannerisms and the latter suppressing his action hero bravado. The only misfire is a superfluous narrator (played by Bob Balaban), whose historical insights into the setting’s New England island only distract from the main story.
Moonrise Kingdom is charming, heartfelt, and probably deserves to be seen more than once to appreciate the level of artistry in every scene. It’s one of Anderson’s best and most accessible films.