Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Because it needs to be said: I am a Wes Anderson fan. I don’t think enjoying his films is a case of ‘getting it’ or anything like that, but I can understand why some people wouldn’t like them – he uses the same aesthetic in every film, regardless of settings of time or place. His characters can seem interchangeable from film to film; the adults act like bored children, while the kids are tiny adults.


All of that said, something about most of his films really works for me. I love his single aesthetic, and I think it adds to the worlds he creates for every film. His obsessive attention to detail makes his work a visual treat even on repeat viewings; his literary and filmic references are a nice nod for nerds like me, and I find I can relate to most of his characters – even if they are mostly disenchanted rich white guys. So that’s why this weekend, instead of seeing Snow White and the Huntsman or Prometheus, I trekked to the only theatre in Toronto playing it to see Moonrise Kingdom.

The story is simple enough: a small island town is uprooted when two ‘troubled’ 12-year-olds run away from home to start a new life together having fallen in love. Drawn into the search for the young couple are the local deputy (Bruce Willis), runaway Sam’s Scouts master (Edward Norton), young Suzy’s attorney parents (Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand), and child services (personified by Tilda Swinton), called in when Sam’s foster parents no longer wish to care for him.


Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the star-crossed lovers are fabulous, and perform perfectly within Anderson’s style. Anderson showed in Rushmore that he could get wonderful performances out of young actors, and that ability is on in full form in this film. There are a number of impressive performances out of the many young actors. I had some reservations about how well Bruce Willis would fare within Anderson’s world, but he musters a quiet earnestness that feels right at home. The same can be said for Edward Norton, whose passionate Scouts master is at once pathetic and highly endearing. Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, and Frances MacDormand all do well with their supporting roles, giving their antagonistic characters some sympathetic qualities. Look out for fun cameos from Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel, as well as regulars Jason Schwartzman and Eric Anderson. (Surprisingly, neither Wilson brother appears).


The story of young love against obstacles is not a new one, but it is hard not to get invested in it. What sets this story apart is the world going on beyond the central figures. Comparative little time is spent developing the supporting characters, but we still get a sense of their lives and relationships – in standard Andersonian fashion – through a glimpsed conversation, a casual line of dialogue, or a photo placed on a desk. The relationships, as always, are central, but this film has more action than Anderson’s previous live-action films. Like The Fantastic Mr Fox, Moonrise Kingdom feels like a storybook, perhaps one of the fantasy stories loved by the heroine. Aesthetically, Anderson’s films all resemble ornate dollhouses, this one with pure love at the centre. Even their names, Sam and Suzy, seem picked out of a book for children. There is something reminiscent of Peter Pan and Wendy about the leads in their more childlike moments – they try so hard to be adults, but with so many unhappy adults in their lives, why would they want to grow up? And like a storybook, it ends with a flood, a chase that ends on a rainy rooftop, and softening villains.

Moonrise Kingdom fills the checklist of things to watch out for in a Wes Anderson film; if that won’t get in the way of your enjoyment, and if you’d like to watch a not-so-quiet character comedy about young love and flawed people helping or hindering it, then I highly recommend this film.

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