Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Cute, self-aware, idiosyncratic and, yes, quirky. Every twee, indie adjective you’d ever want to throw at a film will probably stick to Wes Anderson’s latest film. What I’ve always appreciated about Anderson’s filmmaking is his ability to use the aesthetic to get to the heart of the lost, uncertain and fragile characters that make up the ramshacked communities he always gravitates towards. Or at least I did until Moonrise Kingdom.

The raging escapades of two on the run children, Sam (Jared Gilman), the wilderness experienced scout, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), the dark and brooding beauty, makes for what should be a bedrock of emotional childhood trauma and angst explored beyond the cutesy satire of Terrence Malick’s Badlands (a film I honestly felt did a much better job of connecting me to its troubled duo). All the elements are there, it goes through the motions, but I never felt it gave me those deep, moving insights into the characters.

Part of me wonders if it’s the performances. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward certainly aren’t bad, but I don’t know if they have the nuance needed to pull off that extra layer of human fragility amidst the raucous rock and roll play and idyllic daydreaming that takes up their moments of adult free leisure. Both children are supposed to play as if they feel out of sorts and disconnected with their own families, but the reality of that never solidifies.

I wonder if this could be in part because the film spends most of its time caught up in the duo’s on the run story and the gang of adults and kids hunting after them instead of building slowly first upon the domestic troubles and then giving the on the run story later in the film. The film tells us Sam is a foster kid who never fit in, but we never see him not fit in, only hear the other scouts mutter about how crazy and weird he is. In this regard, Suzy has a strong advantage by the virtue that we actually get to observe her in the context of her family.

And while the film never got me to that point, it isn’t to say that the rest of this film wasn’t a delight to watch. The wry delivery by Bob Balaban of the history and context of the New England island on which the film takes place is one of the comedic and aesthetic highlights of the film. And while on the subject of performances, it’s delightful to see Bruce Willis give a morose and vulnerable performance that we haven’t seen the likes of since Unbreakable.

Being the Bazin fan I am, I have to express delight at the number of playful, sweeping long takes which make up Moonrise Kingdom. The opening credit sequences sweeps through the Bishop household, capturing the distinct and particular quality Anderson brings into his worlds.

Also, it’s fun to be in that world again. Some find Anderson too hipster, obtuse and particular for his own good, but I find delight, passion and humor in the particularities he brings to the table. It makes his tales feel like childhood daydreams captured on film, conjuring up specificities of our past and present in a longing for a more adventurous and joyful future.

While Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t resonate with me as much as Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox or The Royal Tenenbaums, it reminds me why I’m still interested in his films. He displays such a rare detail of imagination and flights of fancy that—amid a deluge of dark, cynical and bombastic films—he offers a cool relaxing breeze.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing