Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom" Review

Who knew the boy scouts could be so damn entertaining?

Moonrise Kingdom is one of the most relentlessly charming love stories you are likely to see all year. Following the tradition set forth by The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Unlimited, co-writer/director Wes Anderson remains affixed in the middle of his own weird wheelhouse with this one.  If you enjoyed those previous films, there is no doubt you'll find something worthwhile here.

The year is 1965. The place is New Penzance, a little island off the coast of New England. The plot involves two young misfit children, Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, who agree to run away together after becoming pen pals for over a year.  The parents of the girl (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand), a local policeman (Bruce Willis) and the local Khaki Scout troupe the boy belongs to (headed by Edward Norton), search for them amidst one of the greatest storms in the areas' recorded history.

To call this film off-beat is to call Charles Manson disagreeable.  The film if littered with dry humor and retro sensibilities.  In fact, the film is so unapologetically idiosyncratic that it makes the most ridiculous elements of its aesthetic feel commonplace.  In most other films, a physically manifested narrator interrupting the film to talk in the camera would just be annoying.  A kid running through a field and getting blasted with lightning would seem a little forced.  But in this film it just serves to enhance the level of wonder that inhabits the world that Anderson has created for us.  By the 20 minute mark, you really start to wish you lived there.

For a story where the protagonists are barely a day over 12, the script provides a refreshingly honest portrayal of love while never letting the quirkiness subside.  Quite a high-wire act, but it works.  The writing makes sure to shine a light on the awkward, matter-of-fact conversations we often have at that age when we start having strong feelings about others whilst simultaneously having absolutely no idea what we're doing.  It's a feeling that stays with a lot of us, even as we grow older and paint thicker masks upon ourselves.

The film also explores themes of intolerance, given that both of the leads are black sheep.  Sam is an orphan whose foster parents no longer want him, and Suzy is a quiet wallflower whose parents consistently try to convince that there's something wrong with her.  Sam is in danger of being put in a juvenile refugee camp by Social Services (Tilda Swinton, who is actually referred personally by name as Social Services the entire film, one of its funniest moments).

As it turns out, Sam and Suzy aren't the only one with issues.  In fact,  nearly all of the adults of New Penzance are dealing with some sort of marital or identity crisis, which drives home the message that maybe we're all a little fucked up in our own ways, and there is no universally definable set of traits which should constitute "normal" in our society.  Maybe it's not right to judge someone because they may be a little different, or because you just don't understand where they come from.  We all deserve the right to feel respected.  Like we belong.  Sam and Suzy finally find that solace within each other, which makes the scene where they evoke the film's title super poignant, and the fact that it's two twelve year olds just serves to illuminate the cohesiveness of the vision.

While its unwavering commitment to its whimsy can be a bit eye-rollingly excessive at times,  it's the universal relatability of its themes that cut deep and allow the film to transcend to greatness instead of being written off as a throwaway, cute chuckle-fest.

Good acting.  Appropriate score.  Great writing.  Great cinematography.

Highly Recommended.


85% = ***1/2 = "Amazing"


-VMA

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