A boy and a girl disappear from their homes–a summer scout camp and a large house, respectively–into the forest of a small island off the coast of New England. Now, everyone on the island is on their trail. These people include the engineering scout troupe, the all star lawyer parents of the girl, the local police officer, the bumbling scout master, and a woman known only as Social Services.
Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom opens mise en scene, allowing the audience the opportunity to experience the surprise discovery of the missing children at the same time as the adults with the knowledge that, yes, the boy and the girl are fine. It’s an effective device that immediately draws you to the two young lovers at the expense of developing any other characters in the story. The supporting cast is comprised entirely of caricatures that do nothing to advance the far more compelling story of Suzy and Sam.
When Suzy and Sam are given their own scenes, Moonrise Kingdom is fascinating. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman give very strong debut performances. Most impressive of all is how they are the only two characters to rise above the Anderson quirk to something that feels real. That’s no small feat when both are playing seriously disturbed children with violent streaks and a laundry list of odd behaviors that feel more suited to a basic cable wacky detective show than a feature film.
To describe the movie as quirky is an understatement. The dialogue is affected beyond description and amplified through various devices. For Suzy’s mother Laura (Frances McDormand), that’s a literal description. She actually uses a megaphone to herd her family in the large house. For others, it’s less direct. Social Services (Tilda Swinton) speaks in short clipped sentences as tightly wound as the hat on her head. Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) constantly criticizes every child he comes across, refusing to acknowledge even a moment of success beyond satisfactory. The aim seems to be to paint the “disturbed” Suzy and Sam as the normal ones for having more depth, but the execution is so wild and wacky that any message beyond love and friendship is lost.
The technical elements of the film are fine. The special effects–and there are a lot of them–come across as realistic as anything else in the picture. The island looks lovely, the houses dull and lifeless (intentionally so), and the characters as confused as the storyline through clear cinematography. The movement of the camera is used to define the differences between characters before they meet for the first time.
Perhaps the most noteworthy element of the film is the costume design. Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s work does more to define these characters than any line of dialogue in Moonrise Kingdom. Each scout is given something unique to define them quickly for the audience. It could be as subtle as how a bandanna is knotted to something more recognizable like an eyepatch or a constantly untucked shirt. The adults are defined even better, with color stories that place them at odds with other members of the community and wardrobe choices that define their behavioral age far better than the screenplay. Why yes, the entire scouting organization is supposed to be seen as an over the top joke, the same way the lawyers, constantly seen in ultra-casual attire, are meant to be seen as out of touch and unobservant.
Wes Anderson tries to do too much with what could have been an excellent comedy focusing on a young couple fleeing a town that has declared them both undesirable. Instead, Moonrise Kingdom is a plodding and uneven ensemble comedy filled with characters as full-bodied as cardboard cutouts.
Thoughts on Moonrise Kingdom? I enjoyed myself during the Suzy/Sam scenes and tolerated the rest hoping for some big reveal to justify all the distractions. For me, that never came. What about you? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.