Wes Anderson’s seventh film lives somewhere between dream and reality. “Moonrise Kingdom” is comparable to the experience of waking up from a dream and not quite realizing you are awake. The film also exists in a purely “Andersonian” world, one which has thoroughly been focused, developed and sharpened over the course of the auteur filmmaker’s career, one consisting of films that have been generally hit-or-miss. “Moonrise Kingdom” is excellent and easily some of the best work Anderson has done.
Taking much of the free-spirit and whimsy from his previous film, the stop-motion animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson creates a new world in “Moonrise Kingdom” where, like in many of Dahl’s books, alienated children, simultaneously extraordinary and familiar, live amongst adults who have mostly forgotten youth — more exactly, what it is to be twelve years old.
Sam and Suzy are twelve, an age where adulthood first begins to rear its ominous head and innocence fades into the soft summer breeze. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan and a skilled “Khaki Scout” who runs away from his troop run by a not-so-skilled Scout Master (Edward Norton). Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a troubled girl who runs away from her New England lighthouse home. The two kids run away to meet each other in a meadow, and spend days hiking through the forest before eventually setting up camp on a cove.
Anderson’s approach to exploring young love reveals an understated depth to Suzy and Sam’s passion for each other. Their relationship is not a summer crush, but rather a fathomless yearning for acceptance and understanding. Both Sam and Suzy have faced misfortune in their lives. Sam’s parents died long ago and is now raised by foster parents who, after his latest mischief, cannot accept him back into their home come summer’s end.
Suzy’s problems are different but in the same realm as Sam’s. Despite a colorful and unusual summer home, her attorney parents are deeply unhappy in their marriage. Her mother (Frances McDormand) may or may not abuse her husband (off-screen) and is having an affair with the local police captain (Bruce Willis). Suzy’s father (Bill Murray) sleepwalks through life as a shadow of sorrow and gloom hovers over his household and his marriage.
As boldly stylish as Anderson’s films are — and his is indeed about as boldly stylish a filmography as you are likely to see — “Moonrise Kingdom” turns out to be more than just a beautifully conceived series of images. There is a lot of heart and feeling in this film, and warm blood runs through its veins, where I was left significantly colder in his previous efforts, aside from “Mr. Fox,” which remains one of the most technically impressive stop motion features I have seen.
Essentially, with this film it feels as though Anderson has finally honed in on his craft and developed a whole that finally equals the sum of its parts. All the elements come together, including a top-notch ensemble cast that also includes the flawless Tilda Swinton as a representative of Social Services, Bob Balaban as an omniscient narrator and Jason Schwartzman, an Anderson regular, as Cousin Ben.
As Sam and Suzy, Gilman and Hayward share a very special kind of screen presence. Between the two young actors, there is enough charisma so that they manage easily to stand their ground among all of the legends mentioned above. Pay special attention to a scene they have on a beach. The scene is as awkward and sweet as any like it I have seen, and it is perfect representation of what makes the film so good, and one of the best films of 2012 so far. I didn’t begin as much of a fan of Anderson’s work but, by God, he has stolen my heart with “Moonrise Kingdom.”