Moonrise Kingdom

With movie fans constantly complaining about the lack of originality in modern films, there is a special place for filmmakers like Wes Anderson who developed a unique and peculiar style that is immediately recognizable. His resume includes the likes of Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, so there is a certain level of patience required by fans that do not typically seek out the quirky, dark comedies in order to render the full value of the film. Moonrise Kingdom is another Wes Anderson creation and it lives up to the eccentric expectations for originality.


Social outcast, preteen lovers, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), flee their respective situations (neglectful home; Khaki scouts) to find solace and happiness in one another. Their disappearances cause a stir among the adults on their homely New England island as Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and Suzy’s parents, Laura and Walt (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), search for the lost children.

There isn’t a lot about the story that is terribly unique. Two kids who have trouble interacting socially decide to run away together and fight for their love. Yet, in MK the way the traditional moments are portrayed end up unique. This is in large part due to Anderson’s palpable influence. The set design of Suzy’s house is incredibly intricate, mimicking a 1960’s house. All of the costumes for the characters also slightly mock the hippie-militant style of the era. Combine this with the most simplistic, yet perfectly appropriate, cinematography and MK develops an excellent aesthetic.

Since the camera (almost) solely moves laterally or not at all, the film, at times, resembles a stage performance as the scene clearly was performed in one fell swoop or on a small set. Rarely does the camera zoom or change focus—the final scene has an out-of-focus shot that ruined this trend, but it’s so minimal, the fact that I’m even griping about it is arbitrary. Adapting to the style takes some time. Luckily, this time passes early with the opening sequence that resembles the newest Red Hot Chili Peppers video—quick lateral camera movements from room to room. Then, the story envelops you.

The characters of MK really captivate you in their oddities. Scout Master Ward is the type of man who seeks power but cannot find it amongst his own age class, so he runs the summer camp and teaches sixth grade math. Norton does what can be expected from him by now and dives head first into the character. Ward quickly becomes the best character and is only rivaled by Captain Sharp. Somewhat dull and slightly dim-witted, Sharp is the only form of police authority on the island and embraces that role to the fullest. Willis comes out of nowhere and steals scenes left and right. My favorite moments were when Willis and Norton were working together as the “most appallingly incompetent custodial guardians.”

This is not to discount the always-great McDormand and Murray. They both add an extra element of seasoned, veteran humor to the film that could potentially be lost on some audience members if they have not seen either in their respective films. As lawyers finding a distance forming in their marriage, their reliance on legalese to communicate with one another is seldom used, but well executed for some cheap laughs here and there.

The few personal accounts I heard of MK bemoaned the casting of Sam and Suzy. Hayward, in my opinion, was a perfectly fine casting job as she had the look of a middle-class girl in 1960s New England. She portrayed the darkness within Suzy’s personality admirably with oddly creepy facial expressions and sinister tone.

The casting of Gilman, on the other hand, could be seen as misplaced, but I feel the personality of Sam was so specific that a casting director couldn’t possibly find the perfect fit. Gilman handles Sam’s dry wit well enough that you notice the complexity of the character—an orphan cast out by everyone he has ever met—but you can tell he isn’t overwhelmed by the experience. Gilman balances the troubled child with the hyper-intellectual to showcase Sam’s individuality and desire for freedom from the constant adult-based disappointment.

The best aspect of the Sam-Suzy relationship is the almost cosmopolitan view they have for one another and the world. The “intimate” scene is most telling of this as all preconceived notions about social correctness are thrown out the window and it becomes two people talking completely void of judgment and cultural tendencies. Their conversations with one another are frank, to the point and their relationship never falters in the undeniable mutual understanding. It’s beautiful to watch, yet completely bitter because theirs is the sort of relationship that is almost unheard of in reality, even amongst the best of friends/lovers/families. There is almost always some social precedent holding back one’s true understanding of another’s emotions, but Sam and Suzy fight through it.

The humor of MK is difficult to grasp and even more difficult to describe. Much of the satirical elements are so subtle that if you are not paying attention, you could plausibly watch the whole film without laughing. None of the humor is necessarily memorable or even quotable afterward, but upon a second viewing you might see the build-up and exclaim, “oh yeah, this part is really funny.”

For having such odd characters and a distinctive look, Moonrise Kingdom keeps you captivated throughout, even up to the somewhat inexplicable climax. Remember to leave your perceptions of the “typical” modern film at the door and expect some awkward laughs.

    • Tina
    • June 11th, 2013

    I absolutely loved this movie. great review 🙂

  1. Could not agree more that the character’s “oddities” are what keeps your attention. Especially Norton’s character and the the young lovers. I agree that Hayward shined as the middle-class stubborn girl and I look forward to seeing what roles she will get in the Future. And I thought Gilman being casted for the film fit the film just fine. I thought he was meant to be bold and kind of awkward. But the awkwardness is what makes the situational humor of the movie which a lot of people will struggle with. Solid review! You should check out mine some time. It is not as in depth as yours but you’ll see where we agreed on certain topics.

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