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Mr. Beaks Pledges Allegiance To Wes Anderson's Brilliant MOONRISE KINGDOM!

Published at: May 23, 2012, 3:48 p.m. CST

Wes Anderson's MOONRISE KINGDOM is a tale of young love on the run from the forces of conformity and sorrow. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is a bookworm with a penchant for stealing and spying. Sam (Jared Gilman) is a bullied Khaki Scout prone to setting fires and generally exasperating his foster family (to the point where he is no longer welcome in their home). They meet one summer during a community production of Benjamin Britten's musical adaptation of the miracle play "Noye's Fludde", and plot their escape via a series of clandestine correspondences. They are twelve-year-old kindred spirits who have found in each other a sanctuary from sadness; now, as Britten's cuckoo sings, away they must.

But away to where? The tragedy of their predicament is that they live on New Penzance Island off the storm-swept coast of New England; short of braving the choppy waters, their options are limited, and capture almost certain. Fortunately, Sam and Suzy have youthful idealism and no shortage of crazy on their side; they're determined to make a home in the wild, and fight off anyone who dares to drag them back to civilization.

Sam and Suzy don't realize it, but theirs is a battle to preserve the wonder and possibility of childhood - and sooner or later, it's a battle they're going to lose. This is the bittersweet notion lingering on the fringes of MOONRISE KINGDOM, and it's what resonates long after the the laughter subsides - which, to be clear, takes some time, because up until the quietly devastating denouement, this is one of Anderson's funniest films. It's also his most controlled. Beginning with the meticulously-staged morning ritual of the Bishop household (cleverly accompanied by the isolated instrumentation of Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34"), it is invigoratingly apparent that Anderson is in complete command of his craft. Every shot is masterfully composed, every movement of the camera dazzlingly precise, and each character introduction conveying pages of backstory via wardrobe and word choice alone.

After the sensational prelude, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola appear to settle into a linear groove with Khaki Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) and New Penzance's chief law enforcement officer, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), attempting to make sense of Sam's sudden disappearance. Though they're led to believe Sam is a troubled kid in need of some institutional tough love (which, considering this is 1965, could entail electroshock therapy or worse), both men are sympathetic to the boy's plight. They're miffed that anyone would give up on a twelve-year-old boy who lost both his parents, and are far more focused on his safe return than the resulting punishment. Of course, Suzy's parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) aren't Sam's biggest fans once the kids' plot is sniffed out, but the adults aren't the villains here (at least not until Tilda Swinton shows up as a severe social worker); mostly, they're just lonely.

If the fugitive young lovers have anything to worry about, it's Sam's fellow Khaki Scouts, who didn't like him in the first place and have now decided that he's to be brought in dead or alive (fortunately, Sam's packing an air rifle). Otherwise, they've got a decent head start on their pursuers, and Sam's expert navigational skills to guide them (the island is also without paved roads, so it's up to the village's airborne mail carrier to spot them amidst the variable foliage). This gives them time to get to know each other outside of their correspondence (recapped in a wittily concise montage), and to discover that, despite their shared emotional isolation, their reasons for running away are not entirely the same. Suzy wants to be far away from the loveless obligation of her parents' marriage; Sam's trauma is the absence of parents altogether, and the sham of other people raising him. Sam's done with parents. He's a good Khaki Scout. He can take care of himself.

It's the adults who are truly insecure. Scout Master Ward is devoted to the scouting life, but he has yet to prove himself as a great leader of young men (as opposed to Harvey Keitel's Commander Pierce, who runs his elaborately-laid-out camp like a neckerchiefed General Patton). Walt and Laura Bishop quarrel like they lawyers they are, and seem utterly disinterested in their children. Captain Sharp lives alone on a boat, and carries on a furtive relationship with Laura. They are all unfulfilled, and powerless to do much about it. That they're shut off from the rest of the world on New Penzance only heightens their desolation.

Did I mention that this movie is hilarious?

What makes MOONRISE KINGDOM an instant classic and Anderson's finest work to date is its kind-heartedness. While Anderson's previous films have been anything but emotionally remote, they've generally centered on the redemption of a scoundrel. Max Fischer, Royal Tenenbaum, Steve Zissou and Mr. Fox are all entertainingly self-absorbed rogues who slowly come to understand the damage they've inflicted on those around them. Sam and Suzy are the damaged, and it's neglect that's messed them up. And now they're looking down the barrel of adolescence, knowing that they don't fit in, and wondering whether they'll ever be happy. They will. With each other. That the adults don't understand this - even if it is an impossible desire - speaks to their own unhappiness.

This is one of the most impressive ensembles Anderson has ever assembled, but we wouldn't be talking about a masterpiece here were it not for the performances of Gilman and Hayward. Yes, their natural expressions (particularly Hayward's Anna Karina-ish moue) effortlessly get across their inner-resentment, but looking the part isn't enough. It is incredibly difficult to perform Anderson's stylized dialogue without it sounding forced, but both actors fire off their banter like seasoned pros while subtly exuding a palpable yet awkward affection for one another. Contrast this with the resigned exchanges shared by Willis (at his understated best) and McDormand (grating without being hateful about it), and you've got a heartbreakingly realistic preview of where Sam and Suzy could be in forty years.

The final interaction between Sam and Suzy leaves us hoping for permanence, but we know better. If they're lucky, they'll cherish the memory of their few days in the wild together, and revisit it from time to time to stave off bitterness and regret. Those emotions go dormant so easily, which is why Anderson's achievement here is nothing short of miraculous. He has captured with deeply-felt adornment and deadpan sincerity that sliver of young adulthood when we are happy, in love and oblivious to the passage of time. Though emotionally restrained, MOONRISE KINGDOM is one of the most powerfully evocative films I have ever seen, a coming-of-age story that, in the years to come, will be discussed in the same breath as THE 400 BLOWS, MURMUR OF THE HEART and STAND BY ME. As in Britten's opening composition, every instrument is in tune and deftly conducted by a one-of-a-kind maestro. Bravo, brava, bravi...

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks

Readers Talkback

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  • May 23, 2012, 3:50 p.m. CST

    First!

    by Jackson

    I like Wes Anderson

  • May 23, 2012, 3:50 p.m. CST

    1

    by tyler

    st

  • May 23, 2012, 3:51 p.m. CST

    Yeah, anyway - PROMETHEUS NEXT WEEK!!! :)

    by marineboy

  • May 23, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    98% on Rotten Tomatoes

    by elsewhere

    For what it's worth.

  • May 23, 2012, 4:09 p.m. CST

    this is the movie right here

    by mr. smith

    the others are cool, but this is the one that will satisfy my soul.

  • May 23, 2012, 4:12 p.m. CST

    maybe there should've been a spoiler tag

    by StarWarsRedux

    I feel like I know the broad strokes of the entire narrative, by now.

  • May 23, 2012, 4:45 p.m. CST

    "that sliver of young adulthood when we are happy..

    by Mr Lucas

    in love and oblivious to the passage of time" is that a universal thing? I remember misery and frustration mostly.

  • May 23, 2012, 5 p.m. CST

    Um, is this out yet?

    by Tikidonkeypunch

  • May 23, 2012, 5:12 p.m. CST

    BUT IS IT QUIRKY??

    by Mugato5150

    Because it has to be quirky! Because it has to be a story of iconoclasts who live by their own set of rules! But don't forget that they're quirky! And at the end they learn about each other and maybe...just maybe...we learn a bit about ourselves. Sighhhh.

  • May 23, 2012, 6:13 p.m. CST

    Nice review, Beaks

    by fuzzy_dunlop

    And a convincing understanding/appreciation of symphonic literature as well. Bravo yourself, sir.

  • May 23, 2012, 6:18 p.m. CST

    mugato5150 - day late/dollar short

    by Dan

    we get it, you think yourself clever.

  • May 23, 2012, 6:38 p.m. CST

    Yes, nice review!

    by Steve Lamarre

    Going to see it in Newport where it was filmed. Some relatives played extras in it.

  • May 23, 2012, 6:42 p.m. CST

    Hey Beaks!

    by Red Ned Lynch

    That right there was one helluva review. Well done, sir. Well done.

  • May 23, 2012, 6:42 p.m. CST

    mugato...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...what fountainsofbain said. But with a little more scorn.

  • May 23, 2012, 7:20 p.m. CST

    Definitely on my watch list. Good review!

    by Lakewater

  • May 23, 2012, 7:45 p.m. CST

    He's got hydrogen psychosis, the crazy-eye!

    by trevor

    fuckin' love, Wes Anderson & Bill Groundhog-Day, Ghostbustin'-ass Murray!

  • May 23, 2012, 7:46 p.m. CST

    You all aren't answering my question.

    by Mugato5150

    IS THE MOVIE QUIRKY? I'll take slightly askew if I have to. Or even whimsical. Off-beat if he's just phoning it in.

  • May 23, 2012, 8:14 p.m. CST

    mugato...

    by Red Ned Lynch

    ...it's a movie. Whether a creative work is quirky...or whimsical...or off-beat...is decided by the reader or viewer, not the creator. The creator presents his or her vision. Each member of the audience experiences the act of creation and then, if they so choose, quantifies their reaction with words. Often audiences tend to regard creative narratives with eccentric characters or somewhat serendipitous plot developments as quirky, at least if they believe those things were done well, and with a light touch. For instance, James Thurber's writing was considered both quirky and whimsical. So was Will Cuppy's. So were the films of Frank Capra and the Coen Brothers, though in rather different ways. Of course the rendering of such a judgment on any creative work is more a function of and commentary on the values and perceptions of those making the judgment than the creative work itself. And certainly no such judgment should be rendered until the work has actually been experienced. What did you ask again? Oh, that's right. You were just being a jerk. I'll give you my guess as to the answer, anyway. It is probably both too quirky and whimsical for you to enjoy. So you should pretend it doesn't even exist.

  • May 23, 2012, 8:56 p.m. CST

    Nice post, red ned lynch!

    by frank

    I’ve found that I almost always agree with mugato5150’s comments, but that is certainly not the case here. How disappointing. Really looking forward to this movie. So many (potentially) freaking awesome movies coming out this year!

  • May 23, 2012, 9:48 p.m. CST

    If Ed Norton says "Gee Willikers" in it

    by Anthony Torchia

    it's quirky. Great review, want to see it even more now, need to take my former Dominatrix, she'll love it. She's a 12 year old boy at heart

  • May 23, 2012, 11:55 p.m. CST

    stoked....

    by Micah fendley

    Jesus jumped up and played the fiddle...... I cant wait to see this F&%$#@*^movie..... I love being a turtle.......

  • May 24, 2012, 7:14 a.m. CST

    Great review Beaks

    by koalaofdoom1982

    After sitting on the fence about whether to go watch this on release or wait a while, your review has prompted me to go as soon as possible. I dig Wes Anderson's style, I know others dont, but in a summer of supeheros and sci fi action(all of which I plan to see btw) this feels like it could be a great change of pace.

  • Yet somehow this became my most anticipated film of the Summer. Saw Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums in the theater, and Fantastic Mr. Fox has become one of my top 10 movies of all time. Now almost universal acclaim for Andersen's latest. I'm unbelievably excited for this.

  • May 24, 2012, 9:35 a.m. CST

    Anderson films are ALL the exact same shit over and over!

    by Mr. Moe

  • May 24, 2012, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Bottle Rocket

    by Laserhead

    Still my favorite. I've liked his subsequent films less and less, as the characters in them became increasingly flat and inhuman, just autistic weirdos in overly precious diaromas with the worn and trite motivation of trying to pretend to some sort of 'innocence' in the adult world. Then Mr. Fox solved most of those problems by replacing the humans with animated animals, and that was his second-most successful film for me, after Bottle Rocket. I'm hoping this is about actual people, and goes deeper than, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stay children forever?' (No. And innocence past a certain age is barbarism.) Coppola co-writing should help.

  • May 24, 2012, 10:49 a.m. CST

    worried i've long grown out of his films

    by aetc

    and annoyed i'm supposed to feel dumber for burning my fan club card. i may be unfairly projecting my disappointment for my generation for valuing and/or identifying with so many of his characters

  • May 24, 2012, 4:34 p.m. CST

    Fantastic Mr Fox is on T.V. right now.

    by jellypop

    Its awesome. Its amazing. Its exceptional.