Review: Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)

by Rio Liang

The incomparable Wes Anderson marvels again with his latest ouevre, “Moonrise Kingdom,” an unexpected love story between two troubled tweens in love, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). They run away together, but hiding away in the tucks and folds of the small fictional island of New Penzance is no easy task, especially with Sam’s wilderness survival-savvy scout troop (headed by Edward Norton as scoutmaster) on their trail, backed up by local police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s lawyer parents (Frances McNormand and the indispensable Bill Murray) not far behind. But to not act on their plan promises the two lovers an even worse fate, as orphaned Sam awaits grim intervention by “Social Services” (as personified, literally and quite humorously, by Tilda Swinton), who explains that possible electroshock therapy may be in the young boy’s stars. It would also mean a return for Suzy to her previously unhappy and lonely existence.

Meticulously but affectionately constructed, Anderson’s latest goes beyond mere po-mo gimmickry and features no self-aggrandizing fanfaronades. It is a stylistic tour de force indeed, but one bolstered by an element so often missing in like slick productions:  Heart. “Moonrise” is flashy and bright, but not just for the solipsistic sake of showing off. Instead, Anderson, through each cleverly conceived moment and his ever methodical approach to every filmic detail, is aiming–so courteously, I might add–to ensure his viewers a felicitous movie-going experience.

Youthful innocence is central to the story. Opening the film are strands of Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” the narrator of the recording played for us not just providing a guide for its young listeners, but also providing a clue to the movie’s adult viewers as to how to proceed with watching the film:  With childlike, wide-eyed anticipation. This suggestion is further reinforced by scenes in which Suzy reads her storybooks to Sam and, later on, the rest of his Khaki Scout mates, who look on with such infectious childlike interest. (The eager “Khaki Scouts,” by the way, are a wonderful parody of adult life–Anderson treats the scouts more or less as miniature soldiers, with all the bluster of, but safe from the harm of, the real/adult word). Anderson’s brand of humor, which dips quite often into absurdity (Piercing a girl’s ears with fish hooks? Two twelve-year-olds solemnly tying the knot, a la Romeo and Juliet?) quite relies on youthful participation from its audience. To not play along is to deprive oneself of enjoyment throughout the experience. Anderson provides the (gorgeous) stimuli; it is then up to the audience to respond or not.

During a summer that has so far posted record-breaking heat, “Moonrise Kingdom” offers a welcome “flood” of stylized optimism for film-lovers.

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