Moonrise Kingdom -- Wes Anderson's Best Yet

Penzance in Cornwall with St. Michael's Mount in the distance
Penzance in Cornwall with St. Michael's Mount in the distance
Adrian Tomine artist
Adrian Tomine artist | Source
Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Buce Willis
Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Buce Willis

Once in a while a movie is privileged to have excellent writing, acting and directing. Even more rare is having these all come together in the same film with relative unknowns shining past veteran actors. In Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, (The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tennenbaums,) introduces us to New Penzance Island off the coast of New England where history and cataclysm form the setting for a Norman Rockwell-worthy first love panorama.

Wes Anderson shared that his meticulously constructed island came out of a mixture of the very real Cornwall vacation spot on the southern tip of England and the Gilbert and Sullivan musical about the pirates that frequented the place. One look at the photo at the top of this article and you know that this clever, charming tale of young love in the face of overwhelming obstacles is no ordinary love story. From beginning to end, the movie shines with the inventiveness and endearing tenacity of two misfits who have found acceptance and a sense of home with each other despite distraught parents, the police captain, the scout master, the scouts themselves and the ominous social services.

Anderson assembled a remarkable cast of actors--Bruce Willis as the troubled Captain Sharp, Frances McDormand as the unsatisfied Laura Bishop, Bill Murray as the reclusive Walt Bishop, Edward Norton, the totally dedicated Scout Master Randy Ward, Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Harvey Keitel as Scout Commander Pierce and Jason Shwartzman as Cousin Ben. To the credit of Anderson and every one of this ensemble cast, rather than dominate their scenes, they each furnish a carefully tuned accompaniment to the solo performances by the two twelve year olds, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop(Kara Hayward.)

Sam and Suzy are an unlikely pair of romantic leads. Sam is an orphan barely making it in the foster care system while Suzy is a pre-teen with a short fuse that gets her into constant trouble. Sam is an accomplished Khaki Scout who earns the respect of Scoutmaster Ward, but no one else in the Troup. Suzy listens to a portable record player and escapes into fantasy novels. Sam paints watercolors and sometimes nudes. Their plan to run away together enfolds at the beginning of the film, but gradually we find out that Sam and Suzy met on the island the previous summer during a fabulously costumed church performance of Noye's Fludde by Benjamin Britten.

It was love at first sight. Sam is bored and wanders into the girls' dressing room where Suzy and others sit before a mirror in marvelous handmade bird costumes. "What kind of bird are you?" Sam asks, looking into Suzy's eyes. One of the girls says something about hers and others and Sam interrupts, still looking into Suzy's eyes which are meeting his with equal intensity: "No, I said what kind of bird are you!" pointing at Suzy.

In a rapid succession of frames, the exchange of letters between them while they are apart for the year, bring us up to date with the knitting together of hearts and their decision to run away together the following summer.

Anderson is known for his incredible frame shots, filled with meticulous details and shot with care by Robert Yeoman, with whom Anderson has collaborated six times. You feel as if you are walking through a vibrant, nostalgic portrait of the 1960's, each frame a carefully assembled scrapbook montage that is quintessentially Wes Anderson. The score is flavored with French pop tunes and crooners that flawlessly accompany the script.

One by one the frames give us more of the story. Suzy's parents, the Bishops are attorneys who have difficulties in their relationship and in handling their troubling daughter. The angst ridden police captain (Bruce Willis) fills the void in Mrs. Bishop's life (Frances McDormand) while the Scout Master (Edward Norton) lovingly stumbles through his role as a dedicated leader to scouts who are clearly more mature. Adding to the feeling we have of familiarity with the setting is an island expert (Bob Balaban), who gives historical background and authoritatively narrates the unfolding events.

It is not the first time that writers have used young love to turn a community upside down and set the stage for romance on the run, but never before have I seen such an honest, funny and disarming portrayal. Whether it is battling the deputized Khaki Scouts or pitching tents and dancing to French tunes or the frank adolescent innocence, Moonrise Kingdom soars and is utterly convincing as a magical place that we all have visited at times in our minds. We are torn between identifying with them overcoming their daunting obstacles and laughing out loud at the wonderful jokes, the dialogue and the antics of concerned but familiarly flawed adults.

At no time are we bothered by the sensitive subject of adolescent love because they never really go there. They are just so adorably twelve. Their quirky natures comfortably resonate with each other and everyone in the audience is rooting for these two to elude the frantic pursuers and continue to enjoy the idyllic world Anderson so marvelously created for them.

Moonrise Kingdom reminds us of what it was like to be misunderstood, but it also reminds us of what it felt like to discover someone just as quirky and different as ourselves but who likes us just the way we are. It is beautiful to watch, it is moving to hear, inspiring and hilarious and filled with some of the best scenes I have encountered in a long time. It is my favorite film of the year so far and if you want to be thought clever and insightful, recommend it to your friends before the Academy gives it ten or so nominations.

I have to confess I have not adored many of Wes Anderson's films. I like them, I respect them and have been entirely entertained by most of them. They all seemed to me to be a sort of practice at one or more of the cinematic arts that make them so much his trademark. With Moonrise Kingdom, I finally see what he was practicing for. The carefully constructed frames full of authentic, plastic 60's nostalgia, the careful attention to score, the use of super 16mm long shots and meticulous short ones, the scouring of Rhode Island geography to find the exact spots he saw in his mind, the developing of a family of actors, writers, producers and artisans who share his vision and finally finding a story of youthful love worthy of the whole ensemble fighting to save all came together in one masterpiece of art that will be the hallmark of his films.

The movie opens with little kids, Suzy and her parents listening to a portable record player discussing how an orchestra takes a theme and then develops it. In Moonrise Kingdom, we feel we are part of a symphony that builds a frame at a time in intensity until with the finale of a record breaking storm, we are standing in the rain and lightning, cheering the conductor and the two soloists who against all odds cling to the one thing that makes sense in their lives--each other.

It's summer. Take a break and treat yourself to a rare and wonderful adventure. I guarantee you will lose years and gain an appreciation of life you thought was lost while you laugh out loud more than you have in a long, long time.

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Comments 20 comments

shampa sadhya profile image

shampa sadhya 4 years ago from NEW DELHI, INDIA

Voted up and interesting!

I am never a fond of English movies but still liked the way you drew the sketch of the movie with your words. It's very emphatic. Well Done!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Never heard of this movie but the cast is first-rate for sure; nice review and now I want to see this great movie. I love English movies and this looks like a winner.


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hi Shampa, thank you for your nice comment. This is not an English movie, the island's name is similar to a port in England, but the movie is filmed in Rhode Island. New England, but not England.

I think you will truly enjoy it regardless of it's origin. =:)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hi Billybuc, this one was easy to recommend. The veteran actors seem to be having a genuinely fun time with the movie and the kids are right at home with the absurdity and whimsy mixed in with the serious events. Their dialogue is what a kid would say and thanks to the great writing, they say it hilariously.

Thanks for dropping by. =:)


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Hi, Winsome. If a movie review is said to be outstanding because it makes you want to see the film, then this is and I do!


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Now, I've gotta see it. Love your effusive flow of words that make Moonrise Kingdom an exquistite temptation I must indulge. The trailer backs your review 100% from the first view of Suzy as a beautiful, exotic bird to ensuing hilarity and a glimpse of love seen in the touching scene where Suzy gently kisses Sam's hand. I have to have the magnifique soundtrack!

You do justice to this upcoming film, Winsome, with a review that will send me to a cool, dark theater on a hot, summer day, where I'll forget everything else, but the magic on the screen.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

What a cast and I LOVE English movies. This one is on my list. Thanks for a great review Winsome. Cheers.


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hi Doc, you will be tickled and warmed and walk out of the theater a little lighter than when you went in. It is my pleasure to recommend it.

Thanks for stopping by. =:)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hi Amy, you make the watching of it sound so inviting...cool, dark theater with magic on the screen ...If I were in St. Louis I'd watch it again with you...it's always fun to watch a movie with someone who knows how to abandon themselves to the experience.

Thank you for the warm words. =:)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Ok Hillary, now I know you're just making fun of me. I don't know how I gave the impression it is an English movie since they are all American actors, American directors and producers and it is shot entirely in Rhode Island, USA but since it is shot in NEW England, the island is Penzance and it is sort of charming like many English movies, I give up--Yes aren't English movies great.

Thanks so much for coming by. =:)


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

When I went to The Moolah theater and saw the scene from Eat Pray Love where the character was in Italy, enjoying a table full of food, I swear I smelled the cantalope they'd cut into. The friend I went with said he didn't notice! But, I heard a blower, thinking it was just the air-conditioning at the time, but later thought maybe "smell-a-vision?" It was either that or my imagination is strongly influenced by the power of suggestion!


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Anything remotely English with shades of Gilbert and Sullivan gets me excited! It will be interesting to see the set since I'm familiar with the Cornwall coast.


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Amy I'm sure you smelled the cantalope. Heck I can still smell the tamale pie my mother used to make every time I think about it.

Hillary, the production of "Noah's Flood" in the movie is just a glimpse, but very Gilbert & Sullivanish. I understand Wes walked the Rhode Island geography himself until he found just the setting for each of the scenes.

Both of you be sure and put in another comment when you see it--Amy in your case, smell and see it. =:)


Ana Louis profile image

Ana Louis 4 years ago from Louisiana

Hello Winsome. So nice to read you again. I did see the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom and I immediately decided I wanted to see this movie. After reading your review, which is awesome Winsome :), I know I made the right decision. Thanks for your hard work, excellent taste in movies, and of course your magnificent writing ability. Take care and blessings.


stessily 4 years ago

Winsome, Your review conveys such a vivid sense of this film that the characters come to life through your words and well chosen photos. And such a veteran cast: Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray (!), Bruce Willis. I can't say which one I'm looking forward to seeing the most in their roles, although Edward Norton definitely sounds great as a dedicated Scoutmaster. I also appreciate that you included the YouTube of Fran├žoise Hardy's song, "Le Temps de l'Amour", which was featured in the film; I've long admired her style.

Well done + all the votes + sharing.

Appreciatively, Stessily


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hello Ana, what a nice thing to say. You obviously have superior taste showing up here. ha ha.

One of the things I enjoy about HP is the introduction to so many wonderful new things. Since I happen to love good movies it is a real joy to share the best of them with people like you. This little production tickles my funny bone every time I think of it. I know you will love it as well. =:)


rmcleve profile image

rmcleve 4 years ago from Woodbridge, VA

Wow! I wanted to see the movie before this, but now I'm completely sold. I'm not always a Wes Anderson enthusiast. This one, however, seems to be something else. Thanks for the great review!


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hi RM, I with you, never was a fan until now and these young stars are so unique, I would love to see a sequel. I'm sure there is a lot more trouble they can get into and involve everyone else as well. After all, what is adolescence for if not to drive the ones around them bonkers.

Thank you for the fine comment. =:)


i scribble profile image

i scribble 4 years ago

I enjoyed this movie, found it charming and funny. And your review is very charming, as well. Saw it with a couple of my girlfriends, who also enjoyed it thoroughly, and we compared it with our recollections of growing up in the 60's. Just a couple of things didn't match our experiences. We didn't wear make-up when we were 12, and we didn't wear dresses in the summertime. Who would run away wearing a minidress and not take a change of clothes? Sadly, someone felt the need to sexualize the 12-year-old girl, it seemed to me. The movie would have been just as charming if they hadn't dolled her up that way. I liked the saddle oxfords, though. I remember those. I'd say she was wearing a Sunday school dress-not Sunday school shoes.


Winsome profile image

Winsome 4 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas Author

Hi IS, I'm glad you enjoyed the movie. I thought it was just like a young girl to forgo normal packing and bring along tins of cat food. The impracticality of it all is one of the things that was the most endearing to me. The year long correspondence with real letters, the impossibility of really evading anyone for long on an island and the conditions in each of their lives that made for a "love at first sight" experience would only work with a certain type of character. The fact that Anderson pulled it off is what makes the film extraordinary.

The truth is that the world is not predictable. People are not all polished and programmed the way we think they should be. In the real world quirky is more prevalent than not and I am grateful at least one director gets it and, in this case, gets it exactly right.

Thanks again for the thoughtful comment and gracious words. =:)

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