Moonrise Kingdom is classic Wes Anderson. Every film that Wes Anderson has ever directed has been classic Wes Anderson, and it’s this feeling of excessive self-awareness that prevents his latest film from exceeding the hype that has surrounded it since its release. Anderson takes a pretty common human experience (in this case, young love), peppers it with a cast of unique characters played by recognizable actors in a bygone romanticized era, and mixes in equal parts classical and surreal to the plot to make some sort of Wes Anderson buffet that tastes exactly like the buffet he’s been serving us for over a decade. Everything still tastes good, maybe just okay these days. It’s filling enough, but there’s an emptiness that persists not so long after that makes you wonder why you keep coming back when there might be more exciting options available.
Moonrise Kingdom is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, so if this review seems unusually harsh and is ended with a favorable score, don’t mistake slight frustration for non-enjoyment. MK is an often interesting portrayal of an unlikely romance brewing between main characters Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). The relationship between the two is central to the film and is surprisingly fun, but in typical Anderson fashion, the adults surrounding them are flawed to the nth degree, looking to doom young love at every pass.
Gilman and Hayward provide the audience with a familiar romantic chemistry, familiar because a version of that same chemistry has been present in every Anderson directed movie I’ve ever seen (yes, all of them). It’s the forbidden romance that Anderson seems so obsessed with conveying to his audience, and here it plays perhaps the best it’s ever played in one of his films because there’s a deep feeling that this romance is damned right from the very start. Sam is supposedly the most unlikable Khaki Scout in Troop 55, while Suzy is the depressed, forgotten daughter of a pair of paralegals eager for someone to finally see her, which Sam so cutely does.
Sam and Suzy are the major strength of Moonrise Kingdom, and the two young leads deserve a boatload of credit for shining in such a stacked cast (that consists of both Anderson staples like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, and Anderson newbies like Edward Norton and Bruce Willis). The kids provide MK with something that’s largely been lacking in the majority of Anderson’s previous films: genuine heart.
Sam and Suzy meet up to go on the run in a sleepy New England village just days before an incredible storm is set to batter the town, with pursuers coming from every angle. Suzy’s parents, the island cop (Willis), Sam’s Khaki scout troop (led by Norton), Social Services and of course, Mother Nature herself.
The movie succeeds best as a peek through a keyhole into young love, reminiscing and waxing poetic about how badly these two kids want to escape their lives. A scene in which Sam and Suzy are going over what they packed for their journey stood out in large part as a unique magnification against current childhood culture and a potential lack of imagination that future and current generations might be enduring.
Moonrise Kingdom is a fine outing from Wes Anderson, but one that ultimately left me wanting to be just a bit more invested in the characters. And to be honest, everything in this review above this “Final Thoughts” segment and the final score were written back in mid-July when I first saw the movie. I wanted to let myself think about the movie a little more before bestowing a score upon it, and to be honest I don’t think it’s an incredibly positive sign for my ultimate opinion that I forgot about the movie entirely until mid-September. Wes Anderson, in my opinion, has never made a bad movie. I just have never seen a truly great one from him either, and while Moonrise Kingdom fits seamlessly into his filmography as a director, it didn’t click with me to the degree many of his previous efforts had.
Final Score: 6/10 (Okay)