Wes Anderson is the director of Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. All of these films had a serious independent bend and were well received by critics, if not by audiences in general. Of all his films, the only one to set the box office on fire was The Royal Tennebaums. His latest is much more of the same and is titled Moonrise Kingdom.
The story takes place in 1965 in New England. On the eve of a major hurricane, events of this little Hamlet become tense. The basic story is of young love. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are two twelve year-old kids who have been keeping a passion going on through the mail. They make plans to sneak off and be together. He is on the island as a member of the Khaki scouts, a Boy Scout style troop doing summer camping. She is a local island girl with lawyer parents, the Bishops (Bill Murray and Francis McDormand). The young boy is an orphan and the girl is misunderstood by her parents. The girl has three younger brothers who seem to take up most of Mom & Dad’s time.
As the drama unfolds, we find that Mrs. Bishop is having an affair with the local sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Sharp and the Bishops have to band together along with the Khaki Scout leader (Edward Norton) to find the children before the big storm hits. As everyone looks for the kids, the two bond in young innocent love.
The entire exercise of Moonrise Kingdom seems ‘be weird for the sake of being weird’ and not for any specific plot purpose. It feels so much like the same trick used in Steve Zissou just not as successfully executed. While some of the people in the audience kept laughing at the absurdity of the situations and language, I found the entire exercise of Moonrise Kingdom as forced and without a strong emotional core. It was a surreal experience.
As much as I didn’t care for the concept of the film, there are elements that are winning. The two young actors are spot-on perfect. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward show promise that is young love without being overtly sentimental. Wes Anderson captures what it is like to be the outcast and how outcasts seem to find one another. The Khaki Scout kids were some wonderful young actors who show promise and interest. A much stronger story would have been of the kids sent on summer camp out. Ed Norton (as the leader) was inspired and the best adult acting performance of the work.
Most of the other adults seemed lost or playing parts from other works. Bill Murray was doing his Lost in Translation character and Bruce Willis was harnessing a variation of the Sin City persona. Tilda Swinton as the social service representative runs along the lines of stunt casting.
There was one element in the story that was the most offsetting. In one scene, the two pre-teen leads strip down to their underwear. It is presented in a more wholesome fashion, pushing the innocence of the characters but I found it off-putting and just a bit creepy. The way Anderson’s camera frames the children bordered on child pornography in more than one shot.
There are those film critics who are going to talk about how the hurricane is a metaphor for either the Vietnam War or the coming Summer of Love revolution these kids will experience. They will make arguments that the trio of younger kids are a personification of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. I think this kind of metaphorical analysis is just a bunch of hogwash. There are future tomes to be written on Wes Anderson and the more esoteric aspects of his outre, but academics have to show off their PhD’s in any way possible. I find too much of this kind of analysis just a bore.
Moonrise Kingdom is just another independent flick that some will praise and many will find difficult to absorb. There is not that much that is special within the confines of the work.