Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

"I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."

Its the 1960s, the setting a vaguely New England island consisting of a summer camp, a police station, and few odd houses inhabited by even odder people. Sam (Jared Gilman), a misfit Khaki Scout, has run away with Suzy (Kara Hayward), the blue-eye-shadow-wearing, book-reading object of Sam's affections. The adults of the island - the chief of police (Bruce Willis), the Khaki Scoutmaster (Edward Norton), Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) - are searching desperately for them as a terrible storm approaches. Making camp on a beach on the other side of the island, Suzy tells Sam that she's always wished she could be an orphan like Sam, to which Sam responds with the above line of dialogue. This is the moment where Moonrise Kingdom, the latest film from Wes Anderson, delves into its main theme: even (or perhaps especially) first love is melancholic.

Anderson's detractors will often take the director to task for creating films that are precociously mannered, designed to look like living dioramas and best enjoyed with '60s French pop music. By these arguments, his films are nothing more than shallow exercises in whimsey, with very little substance to recommend. However, this is an unfair accusation, since all of Anderson's films have a dark undercurrent that cuts through his more precious tendencies. Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps his most poignant - and best - film since The Royal Tenenbaums.

Anderson, working from a terrific script co-written by Roman Coppola, includes many of his favorite motifs here, including an impartial narrator (Bob Balaban) who nonetheless participates in the story and offbeat humor courtesy of clueless adults, not to mention a mandatory appearance from longtime Anderson player Jason Schwartzman (Owen Wilson was busy, apparently). However, he scores some magnificently heartbreaking images as well, adding to the melancholy of the film. And though the finale sometimes gets a little out of control, Anderson still ties it all together with the hands of a master storyteller, bring it all back down to earth.

None of this would work as well as it does, though, without the performances. Murray has specialized in hangdog men stifled with regret and longing, and he continues to deliver here. McDormand and Willis get an opportunity to show their depth as well, and Norton is a delight as the hapless scoutmaster leading young boys on a search party. Tilda Swinton briefly shows up as "Social Services," wearing a sweeping coat that adds to her character's menace. And Schwartzman's brief appearance as "Cousin Ben" is endlessly amusing.

However, the best performances come courtesy of young leads Gilman and Hayward, both of whom had very little acting experience before this film (it's the first film for both of them). Gilman is remarkable as Sam, a kid wise beyond his years - especially in survival, in every sense. Direct, honest, and fond of his corncob pipe, Sam is a terrific creation, and Gilman handles it like a pro. Hayward is perhaps the film's MVP. With a steely resolve that softens the more she gets to know Sam, Hayward shines, consistently stealing the show from the adult actors. She'll be one to watch for in the future.

With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson proves why he was such a phenomenon in the indie circuit at the turn of the century. When it comes to love, Anderson knows what he's talking about. A

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