Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features, PG-13)

moonrise kingdom001-75x75Its premise is an Anderson fan’s wet dream.


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I consider myself a big Wes Anderson fan, but I’ve gotten kind of gun shy about wholeheartedly recommending his movies after just one viewing. This is mostly because of 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, which is indeed a good movie, but it doesn’t hold up well to repeat viewings…That is to say that when it first came out I strongly recommended it, but these days it feels like more of a “meh.” I don’t know why that would sour my ability to promote Anderson’s films, as I’ve loved every single other one of them, excepting only 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

So maybe it’s no surprise that (a) I rather enjoyed Anderson’s new one, Moonrise Kingdom, and (b) I’m wary of giving it a full-stop positive review until I can let it sink in a little more and give my feelings a chance to cement. Either way, its premise is an Anderson fan’s wet dream: The film’s two main characters are socially unsound 12-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward, who has a strong presence but falters when required to recite a lot of dialogue) who meet, fall in love, and run away together in a complicated, 12-year-old equivalent of eloping. It helps that Sam is a Khaki Scout, so he has all of the wilderness survival skills needed to elude those who are searching for him and Suzy: They set up shop in tents in the woods, on the beach, and generally just where ever they can. A large number of the people searching are also Khaki Scouts, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, in a role that seems like it was written for usual Anderson collaborator Owen Wilson), so they’re really on an even playing field in terms of survival skills. In addition to the Khaki Scout troop’s search, Suzy’s parents, Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray, always a pleasure), are out to find them, as are Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Social Services (Tilda Swinton). And did I mention that it’s set in 1965? In New England? So yeah, an Anderson fan’s wet dream. Imagine Richie and Margot’s running away as children in The Royal Tenenbaums stretched to a feature-length film, but maybe sub in a slightly younger version of Rushmore’s Max Fischer for Richie Tenenbaum, and that’s basically what we have here.

All of Anderson’s auteuristic arsenal is on full display here, from cool music, to stylized, uh, everything, to the tracking shots of sets that look like doll houses, to Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman’s presence in the cast (the latter playing Cousin Ben, who comes in handy for the young lovers when they encounter him late in the film). Beyond that, the movie is sweet and funny and mercifully short. Perhaps the best way I can put it here is that I wonder still if Anderson will ever make another movie I love as much as I do Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. While Moonrise Kingdom is certainly not as good as either, it’s heartening that he is still full of good ideas and can at least come close to his prior successes, regardless of whether he reaches those heights again.

But then again, I might change my mind one way or the other after I give Moonrise a few more viewings. Ask me again about a year from now. | Pete Timmermann


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