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Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom
Sunday June 10th, 2012

If you like Wes Anderson you will love his new film Moonrise Kingdom, but you might find it a little derivative.  There isn’t a lot of new territory here, but there are quite a few new players and that alone might be worth the cost of admission.

As with many of Anderson’s films it is chock full of visual Easter eggs.  From the reveal of a camper’s eye patch to the Shawshank Redemption escape hole cut in the side of a cloth tent, Moonrise does not disappoint. Anderson composes each scene with the craft of Norman Rockwell and the quirk and twee of a vintage gift shop.

As such the year is 1965.  We find ourselves on the island of New Penzance where Sam, played by Jared Gilman lives out a nerd-boy fantasy of sorts. He abandons his life as a Khaki Scout in camp Ivanhoe to rendezvous with Suzy his pen pal and love interest.  Played by Kara Hayward, she is mysterious, beautiful, and ‘disturbed’ enough to embrace Sam, a social outcast who proves as confident and cunning, as he is bizarre.

Their characters are standard fare for Anderson – preteens with issues of parental abandonment, and profound ennui bordering on morbid depression.  Central though they may be, I can’t help but feel their romance is something of a McGuffin.

Which is to say that the real thrill of this film is opening Wes Anderson’s dollhouse to a few new cinematic titans.

  • Frances McDormand seamlessly fills Angelica Huston’s shoes as Suzy’s mother.
  • Bruce Willis might just be Anderson’s new Danny Glover as the surprisingly nurturing police Captain Sharp.
  • Harvey Keital takes a turn in Gene Hackman’s shoes as the brutally stern Scout Commander Pierce.
  • Then there is Tilda Swinton who would appear to define a new archetype within Anderson’s universe as the cruel female, Social Services.
  • Saving the best for last, Ed Norton as Scout Master Ward supplants Owen Wilson’s shtick with a performance that is pure camp (pun intended). 

With that much firepower, plus Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman you might get the feeling that Moonrise Kingdom is basically The Avengers for intellectuals.  But unlike the aforementioned Marvel juggernaut this film’s box office will be smaller than the sum of its parts. 

That’s because the real star here isn’t Murray, Norton or Willis.  It’s Anderson and his vision, which is somehow far less bankable.  No other director fills the negative space of every scene with so much color and style. 

Sometimes the measure of a film isn’t how many seats it fills. It’s how slow they are to empty.  In my case they sat through the closing credits. By that standard Moonrise Kingdom is an unmitigated blockbuster.