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Moonrise Kingdom
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by Peter Sobczynski

"At Least No One Was Hurt"
5 stars

There is sure to be a contingent of people out there who are going to absolutely hate "Moonrise Kingdom," the latest effort from cult filmmaker Wes Anderson. They will complain about how Anderson hasn't grown or developed as a filmmaker since the early days of "Bottle Rocket" and the instant classic "Rushmore" and how this is just another helping of the same blend of sentiment and ironic detachment that he has been offering up ever since in the likes of "The Royal Tennenbaums," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "The Darjeeling Limited." They will tick off lists of all the usual accoutrements to be found in his films--quirky and obsessively detailed sets and costumes, eclectic soundtrack selections and increasingly star-studded casts anchored by supporting turns from Bill Murray at his most laconic--and talk about how his obsession with such bric-a-brac is increasingly getting in the way of his telling a simple and direct story. And while they may grudgingly admit that fans of Anderson's previous efforts might find it to be diverting enough, they will also point out that most real moviegoers will find it to be an insufferably twee endurance test. (In other words, pretty much everything that Rex Reed said in his review.) In theory, I suppose I can understand this particular viewpoint from an intellectual perspective but in practice, it makes me want to grab those people by their lapels and slap some sense into them. Then again, if they can't immediately recognize a film like "Moonrise Kingdom" for the true enchantment that it is, perhaps there is no hope for them after all and the only thing left to do is point them in the direction of the nearest theater showing "Battleship," where there will no doubt be plenty of seating available.

Set in the summer of 1965, "Moonrise Kingdom" chronicles the arrival of two ferocious storms set to wreak havoc upon the bucolic East Coast island of New Penzance. Of them, the more easily understandable is the standard-issue tempest of wind and rain threatening to wash away everything in its path. Far more complex and unknowable is the hypnotic, splattered mist (to steal a phrase from a popular song of the time) created by the onslaught of two 12-year-olds caught up in the throes of First Love. He is Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), an owl-faced young orphan who channels the emptiness of his personal life into being an overachiever in the Khaki Scout troop (i.e. the Boy Scouts without licensing issues) led by the good-hearted but remarkably ineffective Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and populated by other scouts whose feelings towards him range from disdain to outright hostility. She is Suzy Bishop (Kara Haward), a wise-beyond-her-limited years type who looks like a mini-Lana Del Ray and who lives in a rambling edifice with several younger brothers, parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) who are both lawyers and who, when they do bother to communicate, often do so via bullhorn and the knowledge that her mother is having an affair with local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). One year earlier, they met when he crashed the backstage area of a local production of "Noye's Fludde" that she was appearing in and despite their seemingly obvious differences, they have become pen pals and recognize each other as kindred spirits.

Now they have secretly reunited with the plan of running away to a secluded portion of New Penzance in order to be together without any of the burdens of the outside world intruding upon them. As they set off on their journey--him with his canoe, air rifle, tent and all-encompassing wilderness skills and her with overstuffed baggage containing such items as a portable phonograph, several library books featuring young girls in the midst of high adventure ("Some of these books are going to be overdue," Sam gravely remarks) and her pet cat--the adults gradually become aware that the two have taken off and, along with several heavily armed Khaki Scouts, set off in pursuit of them. Inevitably, while Sam and Suzy gradually work into the potentially frightening world of adulthood via a first kiss/feel and an elegant mealtime presentation of hot dogs, the adults revert into childlike behavior as their petty anxieties, jealousies and resentments wind up dominating the search. For a while, Sam and Suzy are able to avoid or fend off their pursuers but eventually, they are discovered and it seems as though they may never be able to see each other again. That said, while the course of true love rarely runs smooth, it does occasionally run and a series of unexpected events help to bring them back together again even as the aforementioned storm threatens to literally tear them apart, along with the rest of New Penzance.

There have been any number of films over the years following a couple of precociously young children falling in love in a disarmingly adult manner (at least tonally)--there was a particularly delightful one from George Roy Hill entitled "A Little Romance" with a then-unknown and impossibly young Diane Lane as the girl and Laurence Olivier as the avuncular old guy who helps them along the way. For the most part, however, such things have often turned out to be sentimental drags with all the depth, wit and poignancy of an especially fetid run of "Love is. . ." comic strips. What Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola have done is to figure out a way to connect with those overwhelming initial sensations of first love--where the thrust isn't so much hormonal as it is the sense of surprise and delight of meeting someone of the opposite sex who is, for lack of a better term, absolutely perfect in every way--without letting it bog down into straight sappiness. They do this beautifully and indeed, there are numerous sequences--the key one being a brief beach idyll in which dancing to the latest Francoise Hardy platter leads to a first kiss--in which the emotion cuts so deep that even the crustiest curmudgeons may find themselves melting in their presence At the same time, Anderson & Coppola also recognize the quicksilver emotions of kids that age and their are also moments when they change with a frightening ferocity.

And yet, while "Moonrise Kingdom" may go down as the most touching and direct of Anderson's films, at least since "Rushmore," it is a comedy as well and while it may not look so much like one from a visual standpoint (like Albert Brooks, Anderson makes funny movies that look serious--if seen with the sound off, many of his films could be mistaken for dramas), it contains more big laughs than any Anderson film since, well, since "Rushmore." There is the sight of Scout Master Ward discovering the disappearance of Sam ("Jiminy Cricket--he's flown the coop!") There is the sight of the Khaki Scouts setting off on their "non-violent rescue mission" and the equally hilarious payoff when we see the results of what happens when they finally do stumble upon SAm and Suzy. There is the bit featuring Bill Murray and Bruce Willis sitting in the same car trying to see who can be more laconic. There is the sight of a half-naked Murray walking through his house with a axe and a bottle of booze and mournfully announcing "I'll be out back. I'm going to find a tree to chop down." Granted, these moments--and many more like them--may not sound especially amusing on paper but when brought to life by Anderson and his expert cast, they are absolutely hysterical. The only exception to this is when the film finally arrives at the much-discussed Khaki Scout Jamboree and we discover that the top Khaki Scout leader is played by none other than Harvey Keitel--I submit that if there are indeed certain things that are universally amusing, the sight of Harvey Keitel in a scoutmaster uniform must certainly rank high on that particular list.

As has been the case with every one of his films from "The Royal Tennenbaums" on, Anderson has been able to recruit a large and impressive cast eager to work with him (Who else could get the likes of George Clooney and Meryl Streep to contribute their voices to talking foxes as they did in his delightful stop-motion animation film "Fantastic Mr. Fox"?) and "Moonrise Kingdom" is certainly no exception. However, Anderson hasn't recruited these people simply just to demonstrate how popular he is within the Screen Actors Guild--he has brought them in because they are the right people for the parts. I cannot imagine, for example, a better pairing for Suzy's mismatched parents than Bill Murray and Frances McDormand--even at their weirdest (as when they key calling each other "Counsellor"), there is a plausibility to them that just wouldn't have been there in the hands of other actors. Edward Norton finds a perfect outlet for his combination of all-American charm barely masking his inner weirdness in Scout Master Ward--his introduction as he inspects his motley troops and their dangerous ways is a instant classic--and get many laughs as a result. As the overwhelmed local cop ineptly trying to cover up his affair with Suzy's mom, Bruce Willis is given a lower-key role to play than the characters surrounding him but he responds to the challenge with a performance as touching and vulnerable as any he has ever done--the scene in which he shares a beer with Sam and admits that the kid, in many ways, is much smarter than him is arguably one of the highlights of his career. All stars aside, what really anchors the film are the two central performances from newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy--she effortlessly conveys the notion that girls do indeed mature faster than boys while he is quirky, charming and kindhearted enough to make viewers understand why Suzy would go for him instead of a more conventionally handsome lad. Together, they have the kind of effortless chemistry that puts the pairings of most recent on-screen romantic pairings to shame.

Funny and heartfelt in equal measure, "Moonrise Kingdom" is a top-to-bottom charmer and one of the most heartfelt peans to the power of young love that you will see anytime soon. That said, it may strike some people as a bit strange that Focus Features would choose to release it now during the initial onslaught of the summer movie derby instead of during the seemingly more hospitable awards season in the fall. It may seem odd but I prefer to look at it as an inspired piece of counter-programming that allows moviegoers the chance to see an off-beat bit of artisanal filmmaking instead of enduring another multiplex meatloaf that will fade from memory quickly, though not quickly enough for most tastes. Regardless of the release date, "Moonrise Kingdom" is a real and rare beauty that is to be treasured like a memory of your own first love.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23295&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/31/12 20:57:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2012 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/06/13 Langano Should of won best picture. 5 stars
10/16/12 Lissa Utterly irritating from start to finish 1 stars
10/02/12 Katherine Stukel Loved it! Charming & fun. A must see. 5 stars
8/04/12 Monday Morning A bit too cartoony for me but not bad. 3 stars
8/04/12 Chris. Fun. Creates another world, Wes is good at that. Looking forward to seeing again 5 stars
7/09/12 Andy Great movie and good first love story 5 stars
7/08/12 Ming Love this Blue Lagoon like story. Best film of the year 5 stars
7/01/12 Marty Minor roles get a little too much credit in these reviews. Unique movie tho, fun directing. 4 stars
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  25-May-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Oct-2012



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