The ‘Kingdom’ Everlasting

Courtesy of Focus Features

Ask a crowd of enthusiastic moviegoers about their opinions on Wes Anderson, and you will probably be met with either passionate disdain or gushing enthusiasm.

Anderson’s distinct quirky style was hailed as a breath of fresh air with his first couple of films. However, the meticulously detailed sets, the dry, witty dialogue and the repeated themes of poor rich kids with dysfunctional relationships were soon labeled by many as a self-indulgent directorial rut.

“Moonrise Kingdom” is Anderson’s return to live-action after his animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  While this latest effort retains all the whimsical qualities of a typical Wes Anderson film, its surprising warmth and heart-touching poignancy is what makes it such a delight from start to finish.

“Moonrise” is set in 1965, and focuses on two 12-year-old lovers who run away together from New Penzance, a fictional New England island town. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) fell in love at first sight at a church production of Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde” a year prior to their great escape.

With the young pair missing, the entire town is galvanized into action, with Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam’s Scout Master Randy (Edward Norton) and the island’s police captain (Bruce Willis) leading the frenzied search. To make matters worse, a narrator (Bob Balaban) informs the audience at the beginning of the film that in three days’ time, a rainstorm of epic proportions is headed their way.

It’s easy to fall in love with Sam and Suzy, who are both damaged in their own way. Sam was raised without parents and is an earnest young gentleman. Suzy is a dreamer whose unsatisfied attitude towards life is misinterpreted as an emotional disturbance by her clueless parents, and in turn results in a terse relationship. All the couple wants is to share the joy they finally found within each other away from the worlds they were raised in, as going back would inevitably keep the pair apart.

As mentioned above, “Moonrise” retains all of the essential Anderson elements of quirkiness, dry humor and dysfunctional relationships, but Sam and Suzy’s plight is what keeps the film from teetering into the annoyingly pretentious vibe that Anderson is often accused of exuding.

The film works because of its nostalgic portrayal of young love, and Sam’s purity and naivety, coupled with Suzy’s intentions, garner a sense of sympathy and encouragement that ultimately give the film its genuine heart.

Anderson’s trademark attention to detail only adds to the richness of the film. Eclectically stylish wardrobe choices, beautiful sets and a wonderful soundtrack steeped in symbolism provide the film with layers that enhance the audience’s viewing experience.

In addition, the superb cast portray their characters excellently, with the most impressive being Gilman and Hayward. The young actors are able to depict Sam and Suzy as mature and driven, yet emotionally scarred and vulnerable at the same time.

Murray and McDormand’s performances as Suzy’s parents are the perfect balance between clueless and caring. Norton plays his chain-smoking, genteel scoutmaster in the most lovable way, and one can’t help but sympathize with his misfortunes and undeniable affection for his young scouts.  Most notable, however, is Willis’ departure from his usual tough-guy roles as the tender and broken-hearted Captain Sharp. Delightful cameos from Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel round out the impressive cast.

A beautifully filmed movie that is both touching and hilarious, “Moonrise Kingdom” is a wonderful reminder of the bliss of love, and the perfect kickoff for the summer.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5