Set against the beautiful backdrop of ’70s New England, Moonrise Kingdom follows two young lovers, Suzy and Sam (Kara Hayward & Jared Gilman), as they flee their homes and head off into the wild to be together, closely pursued by the local sheriff (Bruce Willis), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray & Francis McDormand), and Sam’s scout leader (Ed Norton) and his troops.
Wes Anderson’s latest is a delightfully surreal, heartwarming nostalgia trip for those of us who experienced young love at some point in our childhoods (which I imagine most of us did). Right from the get go I was impressed by Anderson’s decision to physically put the audience in the right frame of mind for his modest tale with wispy, fluid camera movements as he tracks between rooms in young Suzy’s house. It was almost like a form of hypnosis, just to ‘settle’ us into the film. Incredibly clever directing, if that was indeed his intent – it certainly worked on me. The core of Moonrise Kingdom is the theme of young love, and the thing I was most impressed with about the film was how grounded and believable Suzy and Sam’s relationship was – in no small part due to the excellent acting by these two up-and-comers who I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of in the near and distant future. The entire film relies on having the audience care about them, and Anderson makes sure we do by writing their relationship in such a way that plays with our memories. I mentioned nostalgia before, well any of us who had a crush in primary school, or a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” who we “loved” can relate to what they’re going through. It’s a time in all our lives that’s fun to look back on with fond memories, and I think this is what gives Moonrise Kingdom its heart. That personal level.
The film is riddled with stars, all of whom give first-rate performances. It’s rare for Bill Murray not to be the best thing in a film, but it is the case here. He’s perfectly good – don’t get me wrong – but he’s not the standout we always expect from such a brilliantly funny man. If there is a standout in this film – and it’s a tough call because as I’ve already said, it’s full of great performances – it’s Bruce Willis, who we sometimes forget can actually act and isn’t just an action hero.
I have only two small criticisms of Moonrise Kingdom. One of them is, in Tarantino fashion, I think Wes Anderson has set the bar too high for himself with The Darjeeling Limited – a film which I retain is his best work by far. I was praying before I went into Moonrise Kingdom that it would top it, but alas, it didn’t. The other is that it was strangely forgettable once the credits rolled. I don’t mean forgettable in a particularly bad way, it’s just that as soon as I left the cinema I was thinking about something else. Usually when I finish a film – good or bad – it lingers on my mind for a while for me to reflect on it. I’m not sure why this was; perhaps it was just a one-off, but regardless, it doesn’t change my opinion of the film. As you know by now, when I do think back, I thoroughly enjoyed it. A charming, funny and heartwarming little gem that sufficiently wets my appetite for Anderson’s next picture.