Wes Anderson is a director who knows his craft incredibly well. And it shows. He picks and chooses from the styles of some of the greatest film makers of all time and puts his own spin on their techniques and ideas. Moonrise Kingdom is a great example of this very tendency of Anderson’s as there’s something distinctly Lynchian about the movie. From the Americana setting to the unique quirks of the side characters. There’s even a little nod to Lynch’s uncanny obsession with ears. But what makes Moonrise Kingdom patently different than pretty much every one of David Lynch’s movies (excluding a wonderful film he directed for Disney called The Straight Story) is that there is no sinister surrealism in the background. While Lynch shows us the randomness and sheer strangeness of our world, Anderson aims to create a sweet story that focuses not on the external world, but on the turbulent changes that every one of us goes through. And he succeeds in doing just that with Moonrise Kingdom, the story of two outcast kids that fall in love and proceed to do everything in their power to remain together despite all odds.
The first thing the viewer notices when being introduced to this movie is its color palette, warmer and brighter than any movie I’ve seen in the past few years, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Spring Breakers being the only ones that I remember even coming close. Next, we have the camera, and, oh, what a delight it is to observe its movement and fluidity. The use of steadicam is very welcome in the age of handheld shakiness. The opening scene in particular is made entertaining by the work of the cameraman – first the camera glides along a rail while facing left, before making a few rapid 90 degree turns to introduce us to the surroundings and shows us what’s going on in other parts of the room. It’s effective, it’s appealing to the eye, but most importantly it makes visual storytelling that much more easy and efficient. Wes Anderson is a director who spends a great deal of time crafting his scenes, and the interior of the house in the beginning of the movie is no different. We’re introduced to the story before so much as a single word has been uttered. And just one more thing before I finish gushing over the opening scene – the use of diegetic sound, particularly the music, is a fun touch that makes the story even more immersive. The atmosphere is one of magical realism. It captures what it’s like to be a child, to explore yourself and the world you live in, thanks to both the colors and way the story is told. From the get go, the viewer can surmise that the movie takes place in a village or a small town, a notion that is confirmed later on. But the place is never shown. It never becomes the mise-en-scene, but it’s a key component to understanding the childish theme of the movie, illustrating how little the kids care about the outside world. Both Sam and Suzy are loners who spend their time doing whatever they do away from the public eye. They both have psychological issues. The town remains irrelevant up until a devastating storm decimates the local pier. That’s when the in-universe narrator first mentions it and shows it to us from afar, probably because toward the end of the movie the main characters have finished their journey and are on their way to recovery. They have families, possibly even friends. They finally notice the outside world.
The story itself is well-paced, excluding some random bits of the third act. The dialogue is brilliant, though it does sound somewhat strange at times due to the quirky and unique world that Anderson’s created for the movie and said strangeness is made almost unnoticeable by the cast. Who would’ve thought that Bruce Willis would be cast in a role that doesn’t suit his usual stoic macho exterior? And he actually acts in this movie. For the first time in years, Bruce Willis doesn’t play Bruce Willis. Delightful, isn’t it? Not that I mind his usual roles, far from it, but it’s nice to see a talented actor outside of his comfort zone. Bill Murray delivers an impressive performance that shows both external emotion and internal struggle and depth. The leads are kid actors and, while not nearly as good as some of the other cast members, they do their job admirably. Oh, and did I mention Edward Norton is great in this as well? Yeah, he’s great in everything he appears in. Even in the disaster that was The Incredible Hulk.
Overall, Moonrise Kingdom is a testament to Wes Anderson’s talent and ability to create a unique story with stunning visuals and interesting characters. It’s a shame he missed out on the Best Motion Picture award in 2015 for The Grand Budapest Hotel, though, in the movie’s the defense, it had to contend with one of the best movies made in the past thirty years, Birdman. Anderson is one of the greats of our time and I’m confident that one day Moonrise Kingdom will be considered one of the weaker movies in his filmography, not because it’s bad, but because he has so much time and potential to grow as a director and create films that surpass anything he’s put out up to this point.