By Brian Lafferty
July 13, 2012 (San Diego) – Moonrise Kingdom looks like it’s set in an alternate universe, more specifically Wes Anderson’s universe. In this world, there are no Boy Scouts, but Khaki Scouts, which are run like the military. The government has, of all things, a United States Department of Inclement Weather. The adults behave oddly while the kids are the only sane people.
The film takes place in the mid to late 1960s on a New England island town. The ensemble cast includes Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward, who leads an expedition to find a twelve-year-old vanished Scout named Sam and his lover, Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both making their movie debuts).
As Wes Anderson introduces the characters, the audience gets a glimpse of the absurdity and whimsy of this strange world. I usually get leery when people complain about a movie being predictable, and Norton’s first scene is one reason why. Robert D. Yeoman’s camera tracks Scout Master Ward as he checks on the Troop. He espies a kid dowsing an anthill with lighter fluid, ready to set it aflame. He doesn’t upbraid the kid for that. Instead, he admonishes the kid for being badly dressed. Even though I could see the punch line coming, the humor of Norton’s high-strung acting makes up for it.
Edward Norton is like a harried, incompetent, would-be Drill Sergeant. Bill Murray plays a softer, and just a tad saner, version of his oddball characters from yesteryear. Bruce Willis, as the Captain, delivers his lines in a slow and borderline monotone voice that makes him sound like an oafish adult child. The thunderous, overpowering classical music and obscure sixties tunes add unique flavors to the filmic pot.
Anderson also utilizes this whimsy to humorously explore the theme of the twilight of childhood. It’s that time of life when kids stop reading children’s books and progress toward young adult fare; outgrow kids’ TV shows; and realize that girls are no longer gross. It’s the first major step to adulthood. Sam and Suzy fall for each other. In one scene, they experiment with arousal. They touch and hug each other. It’s only because of Anderson’s dry, emotionless approach that the material isn’t unclean.
Cinematographer Yeoman films each shot with a straight-on camera angle, with little to no panning or tilting. For camera movement, he prefers to track the camera left or right when it’s needed. The droll energy generated from this camera movement complements the editing, which possesses a forceful energy. These aren’t merely cuts, they’re smashes that pack a Rocky Balboa punch. The rugged outdoorsy colors and rough lighting breathe irony; the movie’s squeaky-clean tone subtly, but comically, clashes with the dirty wilderness.
Although only 94 minutes long, Moonrise Kingdom is like going on a long, but rewarding trip into a foreign country. Actually, I’d more accurately compare it to a voyage to an alien planet. Whatever the case, the excursion is one of the year’s most memorable. This is Wes Anderson’s world, and welcome to it.
Moonrise Kingdom is currently playing in limited release.
A Focus Features release. Director: Wes Anderson. Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola. Original Music: Alexandre Desplat. Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman. Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Jared Gilman, Jason Schwartzman, Frances Mcdormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.