I Heart Moonrise Kingdom
July 21, 2012
— Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Jared Gilman, Jessica Hische, Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom, New Penzance, Tilda Swinton, Wes Anderson
It’s the day after seeing Moonrise Kingdom, and its movie magic still lingers. This is less of a movie review and more of an analysis into the why. This is the first movie that has left me in awe over the past several years of watching mainstream and independent films. Why?
Wes Anderson is like a chef who crafts an original delight with a perfectly balanced cornucopia of writing, casting, acting, location, props, and feel good ethos. Moonrise Kingdom feels like an old school cocktail mixing Amelie’s quirkiness with the camaraderie of Stand by Me around a resonating first romance. No wonder it was selected to open the 2012 Cannes Film Festival in May.
The plot takes place in the summer of 1965 involving the runaway escapades of two lovebird 12 year-olds living on a small island in the American Northeast (Jared Gilman as Sam and Kara Hayward as Suzy). Also throw in two zealous Boy Scout troops, a storm of the century, a character named Social Services (Tilda Swinton), and the biggest lighthouse home for an emotionally frayed family of 6. Who would have imagined Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel as troop leaders after the violence in Fight Club and Reservoir Dogs, by the way? Just deliciously idiosyncratic.
The underlying story framework is the classical hero reluctantly going on a journey, persevering against the odds, and ultimately finding redemption. But then co-writers Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola throw in how orphaned Sam and rebellious Suzy build intimacy by writing each other via snail mail over an entire year. Their secret pen pal love contrasts the ill-fated secret affair between her attorney mother (Frances McDormand) and the small town sheriff (Bruce Willis). Add in one-line zingers from Suzy’s mom like, “We’re all the kids have.” Her husband (Bill Murray) halfheartedly quips from his separate bed, “And that’s not enough,” à la Murray’s Lost in Translation ennui.
The movie’s 1960s era and small island location elegantly enables a cinematic microcosm like a small playhouse stage. The detailed props alone turn this movie into a treasure trove for hipsters and vintage collectors: analog record players, handmade fish hook earrings, canvas tents, maps, and corncob pipes. I loved how the only items in Suzy’s runaway suitcase were 6 fictional books, whose passages were written by Wes Anderson and book cover art illustrated by actual artists. “New Penzance” island’s woodsy interior provides the fertile training ground for newly cool Boy Scouts and its ocean bay creates a cozy cove for the precocious lovebirds. Well rounded Sam paints water colors on the beach and builds a pulley system over the river.
The literal cinematography employed in certain scenes act like understated exclamation points for emphasis along the story development. The overall scene structure is tightly deliberate, but this viewer didn’t feel constrained within the narration. The primary colors used in the film add to its period appeal. What other American soundtrack includes the French song Le Temps de L’Amour (1962) by Francoise Hardy whom I recognized from my own upbringing? Even the movie’s typography, which is actually hand-lettering done by Brooklyn designer Jessica Hische, fits: elegantly curvy like finely practiced handwriting, but with flair.
To tally up the Excellent Movie Points (EMP): a maverick writer-director who executes a courageous story that’s delivered by a top-notch cast, set in a picturesque diorama, which holds onto your heart. Add in extra points for the schnauzer dog cutely named Snoopy, too. Moonrise Kingdom just deftly weaves many elements I personally adore. Jiminy Cricket!
Update: The Third Day Afterwards
The characters continue to develop like Kodak instant film continuing to expose…
Suzy plays the raven in the school’s metaphorical production of Noah’s Ark, while Sam is the Noah in the literal storm near the movie’s end. The story in Genesis tells how Noah sends out the raven as the first animal after the 40 days of rain stops. Remember that Sam and Suzy had just “married” before the deluge floods the camp, so the storm comes full circle. Just like God protects Noah and his family, Sam is unharmed after lightening strikes him.
The initially weak Edward Norton and strong Harvey Keitel switch places near the end. Although Keitel strips Norton of the Khaki Leader Badge, it is Norton who ultimately rescues the senior Keitel from the blazing tent, and leads the scouts to high ground.
Simple, yet deeply nuanced. Meticulously constructed to feel natural. A period piece that’s timeless.
Another analysis angle of the story from An Analogy is a Signpost.
My eBay win against 7 other Moonrisers has shipped!