This past week I found an opportunity to get to see the new Wes Andersen movie, Moonrise Kingdom and let me tell you that I was not disappointed
What it is: Moonrise Kingdom is more or less a love story between two 12 year olds and their adventure as they combat the challenges and hardships they are faced with. The movie is of course directed by the always fantastic Wes Andersen and features an absolutely incredible cast including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton on top of being narrated by Bob Balaban in addition to having cameos from Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman.
Why I love it: I have said this before but allow me to reiterate: yes I am from Portland and yes I love my Andersen films but no I am not a hipster. The reason I love Wes Andersen isn’t because he is hip but rather he is simply a great director. He has an incredible cinematographic style which he uses to tell great original stories full of deep, unique and all around amazing characters. Moonrise Kingdom only serves to further validate this opinion.
Let me start by addressing the film visually. The movie is clearly an Andersen film due to characteristically centered and geometrically structured shots that helps give his films that Andersen style. On top of the assortment of classic Andersen shots are some beautifully composed scenes that made my inner cinematographer absolutely giddy. While I do love Andersen’s style it was a nice twist to see these gorgeous shots seamlessly sewn into the tapestry of familiarly composed scenes. The second visual aspect of the film really worth mentioning are the visual effects. Admittedly they are nowhere near being cutting edge but that was not the purpose they were meant to accomplish. The special effects once again deliver a large dose of Andersen flavor but in new and exciting ways. The effects were actually some my favorite I have seen in any movie ever. They were very well done, poorly done effects if that makes any sense at all. They seemed low budget but done with a large budget. They felt cheesy and campy but in the absolutely perfect way.
A lot of the campy-ness of the effects might be from what they were used for. The special effects were most abundant in scenes or moments that were completely unnecessary for the film. All of these moments were much like Halo Reach’s assassinations in the sense that while they do not enhance or better the movie/game they are an absolutely awesome addition which ultimately makes the respective piece of media better. I understand this is kind of contradictory so let me refer to an example from the film. So at one point in the film one of the main characters, Sam, is struck by lightning. There is maybe 30 seconds of build up to this and he gets up immediately afterwards and it is as if it never happened in the first place. No characters are really developed –with the exclusion of us seeing that Sam is a tough kid, a point which was already pretty clear—and the plot is not furthered by these events. But with that being said this short and brief scene is absolutely awesome and one of the most memorable of the film. While the scene isn’t necessary or really that important it really is just an awesome and bad ass scene that ultimately makes the film that much better and that much more enjoyable.
One of the things that have become a staple of Andersen’s films is the quirky and unforgettable characters. As I have mentioned already the film has a rather large and impressive cast but not a single actor really outshined the others. It’s not the case that no actor really shined but really that they all did equally. Every single character was motivating and deep and you found yourself relating to and caring about every single one of them. After walking out of the theater I found myself pondering which of the films many characters was my favorite and as soon as I settled on one I would remember a glorious moment from another. While everyone was fantastic it was Murray, Norton, and Willis who really stole the show. For each of these actors I am hard pressed to think of a movie where they had done a better job. Each of these three actors’ respective portrayal of his character was one of highlights of the movie for me.
Now this brings me to my small complaints about the film. We have seen Andersen do films with large casts like this before and he did an excellent job of spending a good amount of time developing each character. The Royal Tenenbaums for example did a great job letting us understand and come to love each member of the family. Moonrise Kingdom did not do as great of job with this as I would have hoped for. After it was finished I found myself wishing we had been given more time with all of the side characters. I hadn’t got enough of Norton or Willis or Murray or any of the other fantastic characters when the credits had started to roll. Throughout the film we mainly follow Sam and Suzy’s young love and are only shown brief glimpses of what has been going on in all of these side character’s lives and their relationships with one another, but unfortunately glimpses are all we are really given. We are told and shown that something is going on there but this small sample is all that we are shown.
This was probably my single biggest complaint about the film and I have been pondering and considering this ever since leaving the theater and after much thought I realize this is actually much less of a negative than I had originally concluded. As much as I wanted to see more of these other characters they were not the focus of the film. They are brilliant and intriguing details of the story but ultimately small details. As many of you remember The Darjeeling Limited was preceded with a ten minute short titled Hotel Chevalier that was perhaps one of Andersens best works. Hotel Chevalier demonstrated that Andersen is capable of creating beautifully deep and intriguing characters and relationships in short amounts of time. It showed us that there is so much more to every character than what we are given on the screen. We can’t always be spoon fed every single detail, some of it needs to be inferred and we might need to read between the lines. The phenomenal side characters reminded me a lot of this. While we aren’t given much of these characters there is still so much there to infer and so much left to be filled in by us, the viewers. After coming to this conclusion I realized that Moonrise Kingdom was essentially a film about two young lovers intertwined with half a dozen short films portraying the rest of the cast which really in all honesty is not a negative. There is so much more there than what we are shown if only we look a little harder.
My only other complaint about the film is another one which I concluded was ultimately incorrect. In the first half of the film we see Sam and Suzy alone adventuring across the island. While it was cool seeing them travel I found that the interactions between the two were incredibly awkward. At first this drove me crazy. I thought less of the film due to the awkwardness that accompanied the two central protagonists being together. We see both children interacting with other people prior to them being alone with one another at which point they are not the least bit unnatural. Admittedly this effect lessened as the film progressed but none the less the second the two of them were alone it became a bit uncomfortable. At first I held this against the film but once again after further consideration I realized my miscalculation once again. The awkwardness and discomfort that arises when the two are together is not the result of poor acting or casting but rather a brilliant portrayal of young love, because you have to admit, young love can be quite awkward. These two realistically portrayed the true and uncouth nature of love at that age and how we all honestly acted in that same situation. Those two weren’t doing a poor job but an astounding one delivering to the audience a dash of true and honest emotion.
Moonrise Kingdom is an incredible movie. The all-star cast gives us one of the best character rosters I have ever seen and the film in its entirety is charming, heart-warming, witty and real. I have tried incredibly hard to find something bad to say about the film but every negative I can think of I find myself being able to justify. This is one of those movies that literally everyone can appreciate and because of that I recommend it to absolutely everyone. Moonrise Kingdom is definitely one of my favorites of Wes Andersen’s.
I give Moonrise Kingdom a 4.5/5. Now go watch this movie while it is still in theaters. You won’t regret it.
With all of that being said, what did you guys think of the film? How do you think it compared to his other work? Did you think Suzy and Sam were awkward together or am I just kind of crazy? Leave your thoughts in the commenst below!