Moonrise Kingdom (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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It's hard to dislike Moonrise Kingdom, but I, as always, managed. It's a darling little film that stays darling and little, no matter how much you try to dissect or elevate it.

Filmed in a faded colors and with enough prepubescent angst to power a small nation, Moonrise Kingdom is aglow with the usual amount of reflective kitsch that auteur Wes Anderson usually brings to the table. His last few films were disappointments-- The Darjeeling Limited felt like a less inspired retread of The Royal Tennenbaums and The Fantastic Mr. Fox was almost aggressively empty-- but he's set up himself up for something a little different this time around.

Here's the story of Khaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) and 'troubled kid' Suzy (Kara Hayward) and their attempts to escape the confines of the world and create their own separate and sublime version in the face of all of their complex emotional issues and the adults who inundate them with their issues as well.

It's Anderson angst, but-- you know-- for kids.

"Wherefore art thou, Romeo?"

The illustrious adult cast threatens and finally does overwhelm the story of the young boy and girl hiking into the woods to begin anew. They range from Sam's authorial figures Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and truancy officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to the more desperate parental units of Suzy including Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Francis McDormand) Bishop.

Together these characters inhabit a series of wood enshrined islands that sit in the path of a big storm. As Suzy and Sam escape, we see flashbacks to their first meeting (at the none-too-subtle foreshadowing church production of Noah) and the correspondence that has led them to their decision. Sam's parents have died in a tragic accident; Suzy can't stop stabbing people.

Who can blame her?

The two spend a surprisingly short amount of time together, as most of the film seems far more concerned about the hunt for them, with Ward's scout troop and and the bickering Bishops in tow. They find them quickly, and the film becomes a Fugitive-lite, with the young lovers chased by parents who don't understand the depths of their connection due to the contingent all being well familiar with the pitfalls of sexual maturity.

Being an adult in this film doesn't necessarily indicate maturity in many other respects (hey, this is an Anderson movie after all); there is a love triangle that involves adultery, and one of the characters inhabits his bachelor existence to a fault. These characters grow by film's end and become better people after they understand and acknowledge their faults and can finally exhibit what is the ultimate sign of growth: acknowledging that Suzy and Sam are better off together.

"God, it's up to us to just stand around and talk some more."

Sam and Suzy's relationship can probably be labeled a lot of words, and but the one I'll pick would be precocious. They're both kids with issues, but they control and feed their issues. Suzy's violent tendencies and Sam's unyielding urge to excel are both cute traits, but neither are portrayed as much more than hurdles. Their fatalistic romanticism, as seen in so many films of the French New Wave that Anderson is quoting, is portrayed as correct and solid, like a boulder of truth.

Spoilers until after the next picture.

Anderson abandons the New Wave sensibilities when we reach the final third of the film, and while I can't blame him for doing so-- this film is American, after all-- it results in the creation of something far more rote than one could be hoping for, even considering the last couple of films Anderson has produced.

The film's conclusion for the young couple is cutesy while being disappointingly contrite, arguing again for marriage-- even sham marriage-- as a civilizing and stabilizing force. After this ceremony, they're moved almost entirely to the background of the picture, with only a why-the-hell-not lightning strike and a set of disguises allowing them to pop up while we become disappointingly mired in the more conventional adult plottings.

In fact, the thrust of the movie aims towards the idea of taking dispirit social elements and smoothing over their rough edges through mild affection. While this certainly results in a film that's unendingly pleasant and certainly fun to watch, Sam's fate-- promoted to a junior police officer, and becoming an enforcer of the social norms he once strove to break-- becomes disheartening rather than heartwarming.

Suzy, despite her apparent troubles, apparently just needed a man in her life, as a force to tone down her masculine urges for power and to force her back into a conventional home life. It's a lazy solution, and even Suzy seems to realize this: the last shot of her in the film involves a moment of a lost thought, a pause as if trying to remember something. Your character arc, deary, that's what you're missing.


I suppose I should reiterate that Moonrise Kingdom isn't a bad movie, just, overall, a movie. It's cute and plays with the conventions of reality to create a fable that will make anyone who sits in front of PBS on Sunday nights swoon. There's nothing wrong with being a movie hellbent solely to entertain and unchallenge, and Jacob, who I saw this with, adored it.

But here it's time for me to play overt movie snob. There's a much better, funnier movie that came out last year with much the same ideas of young love but told in a way that's achingly real instead of obscured by a layer of tics and artifice. That movie was Submarine, which is currently available on Netflix Instant.

When Moonrise Kingdom is available similarly, for fans of Anderson's oeuvre or who are okay with just coasting on whimsy (sorry Jacob), it's worth a shot.

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Posted by Danny

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