In the throes of childhood infatuation and the restlessness of everyday life, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) decide to run away together from being an adopted khaki scout and an unreadable problem child. With the entire island called upon to find them and return them to safety, including Sam’s scout leader (Edward Norton) and Suzy’s anxious parents (Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand), their eagerness for freedom offers up some home truths to the odd array of townspeople.
Moonrise Kingdom is a sympathetic and well-natured ode to young romance and the trials and tribulations that invade the mind and actions of pre-adolescents. Where most stories of two characters like Sam and Suzy would have them facing conflict after conflict, screenwriters Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola are are more imaginative, awarding the duo the weight they need to hold their own. In doing so, they strongly advocate the idea that young love is usually more substantial than that of the tarnished, worn-out romance felt by older partnerships – an assumption well represented by Suzy’s inharmonious parents.
Their enchantment may well feel too whimsical to truly invest in, but Anderson and Coppola constantly rise above the majority of cliches that have been incorporated into anything dubbed “coming-of-age”. While Sam and Suzy’s darkened personalities are hinted at, it’s always their eccentricities that shine, with the way the narrative flicks between the younger and older generation acting as a welcomed diversion to a relationship that, with prolonged attention, could be picked apart in an instant. It’s a neat effect and, while some will argue it makes the subject matter all-too solvable, it actually makes Moonrise Kingdom something special; fresh and cutely pleasurable.
When it comes to Anderson, however, no matter how ambrosial the narrative is, the strengths consistently lie in the aesthetics and off-kilter interaction between characters. In that respect, Moonrise Kingdom is no different. Anderson, with the aid of cinematographer Robert Yeoman, creates a vibrant, eccentric and moody 1960’s. The small island in which the character inhabit constantly acts as a reminder of Sam and Suzy’s limited existences, encased in a bubble of familiarity that’s never easy to depart. The music, too, with a particularly spot-on use of Francoise Hardy’s Le Temps De L’Amour, acts as the perfect signifier to what the characters are feeling, allowing the audience to feel included in their adventure.
In terms of character interactions, the entire cast, aside from a muddled, irksome central performance from Gilman, does their bit to ensure Anderson and Coppola’s dialogue hits every possible note and more. Hayward, MacDormand and Bruce Willis, as the island’s police officer, are particularly on-form, while Murray, Norton and Tilda Swinton as Sam’s meddling, by-the-books social worker provide spectacular support. A cameo by Jason Schwartzman feels necessary, but doesn’t really add anything to an already bustling ensemble.
Let’s face it, Anderson’s films are never going to to be laugh-out-loud funny nor all-inclusive runaway successes. However, for those who have a taste for his idiosyncratic ways, there’s plenty to love in Moonrise Kingdom, particularly its ability to offer up wholly relatable and realistic insights into the struggles of young love and pre-adolescence without tangling itself in impenetrable or cliched hypotheses. Soak it up, for it’s a breezy, adorning slice of indie filmmaking from a wonderfully offbeat filmmaker.