The word quirky sure gets thrown around a lot when talking about director Wes Anderson and his films, but at least the man sticks to his guns. If someone were to be called quirky for the sake of being quirky it would be Jared Hess. Even when attempting something new, ala Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson has maintained his own voice ever since he gave us Bottle Rocket all the way back in 1996. Since then there hasn’t been one true dud in his resume. Some still call The Darjeeling Limited the closest he’s come to a misstep, but even that is far better than most of what gets churned out in Hollywood week after week. Now that he’s back to the land of live-action, Moonrise Kingdom turns out to be another notch in his belt of greatness.
In 1965, 12-year-old Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) lives with her three younger brothers and attorney parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand). Fellow 12-year-old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has been attending a Khaki Scout summer camp lead by bumbling Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). One day, Sam escapes camp through a hole in his tent, leaving behind a letter of resignation. Suzy has also run away to be with him after they spent the last year falling in love while writing letters back and forth. Now, Walt and Laura set out to find the young lovers with the help of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) of the Island Police and Scout Master Ward, along with the help of the camp’s “Beige Lunatics,” before a hurricane reaches the shores — as foreshadowed by the Narrator (Bob Balaban).
Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford Coppola) bring about the standard issue quirks but keep the storytelling front and center. With his two young leads keeping the show their own, just about the only thing that nearly outstages the screenplay is Adam Stockhausen’s production design. One of Suzy’s favorite things is reading, so the whole movie feels like a children’s book come to life. Granted, most children’s books don’t contain some of the content Anderson manages to skirt by with his PG-13 rating, but it never ventures too far into the extreme. The film mostly plays out like a mashup of a prison escape/war film. The finale is filmed in such a way as to appear black and white, sending my appreciation for Anderson’s visual choices through the roof. It will probably come as no surprise that Bill Murray has the funniest line in the entire film. But fear not Anderson lovers, Moonrise Kingdom may be his most mainstream live-action film to date, but as expected, he’s also delivered one of the year’s best films.
Photo courtesy Focus Features