Adolescence is a unique beast. It is misunderstood, by both the adolescent and the adult. Either the confusion of the phase is massive while living it or you’re so far past the phase that you can no longer relate. You then hope and trust that this hormonal time will pass, like yours did. Wes Anderson, with co-writer Roman Coppola, has created what might be his greatest success with ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ where both ends of the adolescent realm are represented and this time of youth is set on a wildly fresh, yet sympathetic stage.
The premise is simple: young Sam, played by newcomer Jared Gilman, runs away from the Khaki Scouts to meet his secret pen pal Suzy, the sweet Kara Hayward, who lives on the same island. Meanwhile dedicated Scout Master Ward (a warmer Edward Norton) and troop, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis as Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s family set out to find the young lovers before a pending storm hits. Both escapees, disturbed and rebellious in their own right, embark on this adventure through the woods, evading their current living situations and in turn growing closer. Their bond and what unravels because of their departure is the more complicating yet warmly woven heart of this story.
Sam and Suzy find young love and it’s easy to root for. Their atypical behavior, that may have landed other children in therapy, might come as a surprise, but be prepared to laugh these off as genius bits of filmmaking. Suzy hates her parents and Sam has none, so no wonder they’re different. Suzy stabs a boy with scissors and orphaned Sam has caused issues, like a sleepwalk fire at a foster home, but without necessarily mal intentions. He even gets struck by lightening, but bounces up from it to head along his planned trajectory. Sam and Suzy fight on despite setbacks and do not fail to leave very funny chaos in their wake. Their frank manner of speaking too can be sudden, but it’s lovely to know that the writing was fearless.
The details of this film are standout as well. From characters’ wardrobes, with Sam’s perfectly huge glasses and Suzy’s real beetle earrings that he makes for her, to beautiful cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman and the original music. You are set to the perfect mood while following the camera in this appropriately boxy fashion, along the straight lines and quick shifts (pay attention to the gorgeous opening continuous shot). And the close-ups of Suzy and Sam just bring your heart closer to their story. You’ll laugh at all the right moments, as every cast and crew member has done their job so clearly well.
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is a make-up of actor extraordinaires, including Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s parents, and impeccable comical timing. Even Tilda Swinton adds dimension with her all-business restrained politeness as the Social Services woman come to retrieve Sam. It’s possible that there could have been even more wit, perhaps more time spent to develop some other key characters, Suzy’s dad for instance, but the cleverness and light-felt charm of a simple story about a scout runaway and his friend are there. The film gleams anyway with the new and wonderful layers that Anderson added on. Watch this and you’ll be waiting for what he hands us next. Oh the mighty trials of youth.