MacGuffin Film Review – Moonrise Kingdom

Film Review – Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom Movie PosterSkilled woodsman Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) decides to skip town with his girl Suzy (Kara Hayward), but her well-to-do family is none to happy and has involved the cops. Sam and Suzy wander through the woods, isolated and happy, until they come across Sam’s former mates, who have been deputized to hunt down the blissful couple. But Sam’s got a gun, and Susie has her rage, and someone’s gonna get stabbed, and someone else is going to die before the afternoon is over. The lovebirds escape, but are soon captured and taken back to civilization, where they have to renew their fight for freedom. It’s like a retelling of the classic noir film Gun Crazy, except the protagonists in Moonrise Kingdom, which I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival, are twelve, and the film’s directed by Wes Anderson. It’s more ridiculous than his other films, but its over-the-topness saves it, because it doesn’t have much heart to it. But it does have adventure, true love, and Bruce Willis, and only a devout Anderson hater will be able to resist its charms.

Sam Shukusky is a Khaki Scout camping with his troop on the East Coast island of New Penzance. He’s the most unpopular kid in his troop, and the most disliked kid in his foster home. In fact, no one seems to like him much at all except for his pen pal Suzy, whom he briefly met once, a year ago. Suzy has a loving-but-distant family and a lot of undirected rage: as she gets older, she notices a lot of interesting things about adult behavior and is having none of it. She and Sam hatch a plot to run off together, and since no one has even the vaguest idea that they know each other, their plan goes off without a hitch. The whole island is out looking for them, but they keep pressing on, just looking for a spot to stay still for a while and explore the notion that they are no longer outsiders because they have each other. The adults are left wondering how they could lose two children on an island that is so small it doesn’t have any paved roads. Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) enlists the help of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and his troops to find the missing tweens, while at the same time trying to placate Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). He’s also got a very unhappy Social Services employee (Tilda Swinton) on his case, and, well, he’s just kind of lonely. It’s his loneliness, and Sam’s, that sits at the center of the movie and ultimately unites the two divergent narratives.

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This is a Wes Anderson movie, so the story takes place in a hyper-mannered, over-designed 1965 that never existed. Anderson’s other movies have been set in a somewhat timelessly ambiguous modern day, but one informed by—among many other thing—mid-sixties nostalgia. (The mid-sixties are interesting because they are still influenced by the conservatism of the 1950s, while trying to embrace the new freedoms of the 1960s.) The set is designed as if someone cherry-picked all of the stuff they most loved about that era and only used those artifacts to represent the time. So, basically, it’s the 1960s filtered through Wes Anderson’s brain, with all the quirks and mannerisms that reside there. (It’s all very twee.) So, if you like Wes Anderson films, you will probably like this one. If you don’t, you won’t. (If you’ve never seen one of his films, give it a try. You might really enjoy it.)

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I think Anderson is only as good as his writing partner, and he wrote this one with Roman Coppola, who co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited with Anderson and Jason Schwartzman. I HATED The Darjeeling Limited. So much so I really had to remind myself to keep an open mind with Moonrise Kingdom. I ended up liking the movie, but with reservations. I think Anderson’s movies are best when they have a solid core of emotion at the center, because it keeps his extremely mannered style of filmmaking grounded and relatable. Max Fischer in Rushmore is annoying as hell, but as he learns to love well and accommodate the love of others, he becomes less irritating and more interesting. The relationship between Sam and Suzy feels flat to me here, as do the relationships between all of the other characters. The movie is so bombarded with artifacts, it’s hard to see underneath them to find any depth of emotion in the characters—except for Bruce Willis’s Captain Sharp. Bruce Willis is really good at being able to show the simple humanness of whatever character he is playing. He’s a great action star because the audience can instantly relate to him, and when he chooses more offbeat roles, that same quality serves him well. It’s Captain Sharp’s loneliness and willingness to involve himself with a kid he barely knows that gave me an emotional entrance into the film, and allowed me engage with the story instead of just viewing it as an interesting exercise in style.

Final Grade: B

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