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Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Premise: A pair of preteens (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) runs away from home and are pursued by their parents, guardians, and law enforcement.

What Works: Moonrise Kingdom is among Wes Anderson’s best efforts. This film centers on a pair of preteens and the focus on young characters suits Anderson’s filmmaking sensibilities. The writer/director’s films have an innocent yet intense quality and Moonrise Kingdom is the purest expression of his whimsical style. Like some of Anderson’s other work, Moonrise Kingdom includes narration and conspicuous camera work. These techniques draw attention to the story structure but also prepare the audience for the specific style of the film. Despite the quirkiness that distinguishes his work, Anderson does not idealize children or childhood; he demonstrates an understanding that childhood is messy and stressful and he does not condescend to his juvenile characters or patronize the audience. The filmmakers take risks, pushing their main characters into some difficult situations, forcing them to make choices, and deal with the consequences of their actions. The love story between an orphaned boy played by Jared Gilman and a discontent bookworm played by Kara Hayward has a lot of reality to it and the filmmakers get to some authentic substance about growing up. They experience the different facets of love, both physical and emotional, and they do things with and for each other, like making sacrifices and sharing secrets, that give their story the kind of romantic substance that is missing from most romantic comedies. The story of the children is paralleled nicely by the subplots involving the adult characters and Moonrise Kingdom has some terrific performances by Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Willis is cast as the local sheriff who is involved in an affair with the mother of the missing girl. Willis underplays the role, as usual, but his human failings make him a credible moral center for the film and the relationship that he builds with the boy is sweet without getting sentimental. Edward Norton is cast as a scoutmaster and here again Moonrise Kingdom presents a compromised male authority figure. Norton’s character is trying to raise boys into men but is overwhelmed by the job and the film gives the scoutmaster opportunities for growth of his own. The compelling characters, brisk narrative, and meaningful story make Moonrise Kingdom one of Wes Anderson’s most enjoyable feature films.

What Doesn’t: Although Moonrise Kingdom is more accessible than any other film Wes Anderson has made, this picture might encounter trouble among both the filmmaker’s friends and foes. Those who don’t get his storytelling style are still going to struggle with this film. But those who enjoyed Anderson’s previous work might find Moonrise Kingdom too mainstream. Although it is consistent with Anderson’s other films, the picture does not have some of the kookier styles and techniques. The picture is focused on the two lead characters and does not have the broader characterization that Anderson’s films usually afford the supporting cast.

Bottom Line: Moonrise Kingdom is a very good film and one of Wes Anderson’s best pictures. Although it may require a specific or acquired taste in order to be fully enjoyed, Anderson breaks out of his more insular humor to make his most accessible film to date.

Episode: #397 (July 22, 2012)