As promised, here are some of my thoughts on Moonrise Kingdom…..

Let my start by saying that I am a fan of all things Wes Anderson. I understand the criticisms that he gets, and in some instances they actually do have merit. And while I’ve enjoyed his last few movies, they’ve left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. I’ve been eagerly anticipating Moonrise Kingdom since the day they announced filming was completed. But I was a little worried that I would be disappointed. I’m happy to say the exact opposite was the case. While I’m still processing things, and repeated viewings will ultimately confirm or deny this, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that this might just be Anderson’s crowning achievement. Almost everything in  the movie worked, and when it worked, it really worked. It felt like the most complete, most rewarding, most viewable movie he’s done since The Royal Tenenbaums.

The story is pretty simple. It’s 1965 on a remote island off the coast of Maine. An awkward, nerdy “Khaki scout” forms a friendship with a “troubled” young girl. The two plan to run away together and retrace the historic trail along the coast of their island. When they’re found to be missing, all hell breaks loose in this sleepy little community. The two are separated, and child services gets involved, before they are eventually reunited during the storm of the century. It’s your clichéd story of forbidden teenage love amongst misunderstood outsiders who, because of their isolation, have somehow been sheltered from the changing world around them. In essence, it’s all of the things that Wes Anderson critics hate about his movies. While this movie might not sway the harshest of the critics, it’s just way too likable to not win over at least a few.

The strength of the movie is without a doubt its two young leads. Sam’s awkwardness is extremely endearing – you spend the entire movie rooting for him to get the girl who is way out of his league. Suzy has a certain slyness to her – she might be the 1960’s equivalent of the misunderstood emo kid, but she’s brimming with wit and intelligence and a certain maturity beyond her years. The chemistry between the two seems genuine, and they make a perfectly adorable couple. They often speak like adults, but they have all of the whimsical qualities that come standard with the twelve-year-old worldview.

As for the rest of the cast, they all turn in fine performances, especially Edward Norton as the scout master, Bill Murray as Suzy’s helpless father, and Jason Schwartzman as cousin Ben. The refreshing this was that, even with so many big names on board, it never felt like they were competing for the spotlight (which, if we’re being totally honest, has been a problem in a few Wes Anderson movies). In fact, they seemed content to play their supporting roles like cameos and let the two kids be the focus of the movie – which is exactly why this movie succeeds. Every scene, every line, it all plays to the strengths of the movie. It’s cute, but never for the sake of being cute. The soundtrack never jumps in your face and shouts its hipster cred. The quirky cinematography never distracts from the action that is going on all around us. The bottom line remains the desire to tell a good story (with more laugh-out-loud moments than most Anderson movies) and to make the viewer connect with the main characters and relate to their longings. On these accounts, Moonrise Kingdom is an absolute triumph.

The only major drawback to the movie is the narrator, who only appears a few times, thankfully. His scenes do help to fast forward things a little and help us to understand the context that this story is taking place within, but for the most part they are completely pointless. It breaks up the natural flow of the movie, and by constantly breaking the fourth wall, makes this movie seem like it’s trying to be a bit more clever than it actually is. The narrator scenes are very tongue-in-cheek and  do provide some laughs, but at the expense of the whole. Getting rid of them altogether wouldn’t hurt the film one bit – even if we didn’t know the name of the storm and when it was going to hit, we could still easily understand the impact it had. Perhaps expanding them might work – rather than a gimmicky aside, they could be used as the primary storytelling device. But that would completely change the character of this movie, and there’s really no way to know if it would be a change for the better or not. But as it stands, these few scenes break things up enough to keep this movie from being perfect, but they don’t harm it so much that you can’t easily ignore them and focus on the good.

Basically what we have is a very good, sometimes amazing movie that proves to be so likable that even people who don’t like Anderson’s style will have to admit he’s really accomplished something here.  If you’re already a fan, you’ll flat-out love this movie. If you’re on the fence, it just might win you over. And if you’re sick of Wes Anderson and his methods, you should probably check out this movie before you write the final chapter.

 

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