I have seen Moonrise Kingdom twice in the last two days. I can’t tell you that I’ve ever done that with another movie.
The first time, I went by myself. I left feeling all these things that I didn’t know how to put my finger on. The second time, I left teeming with these same feelings, unable to again name them.
The cast is superb. Goddamn it if with one look Bill Murray, playing Suzy’s father Walt Bishop, can’t make you feel like he’s a lost kitten in a rain storm, or that you just feel so many things. Those eyes have so much behind them, dammit! At one point, his estranged wife, Laura Bishop played by the effortlessly wonderful Frances McDormand, apologizes for “whatever still stings the most” as they lie in separate beds- Murray at this point doesn’t even need dialogue to convey perfectly what we are supposed to feel.
Bruce Willis as Police Captain Sharp gave my favorite performance as, in Suzy’s words, “that sad dumb cop”, tossing desperation, sadness, and the want for more across the screen with such skill and subtlety that I wanted afterwards to find out everything that happened to his character. Edward Norton was amazing as the eager beaver Khaki Scout Master Ward, who also oozes desperation of a frenzied nature. He plays by the rules, and loses at times, but does so with (again) looks that Wes Anderson seems to be able to get to the audience that most movies can’t.
The movie is never intentionally funny. I laughed a lot, sometimes out of sadness, awkwardness, the hilarity of the reality of the situation, etc.- one Khaki Scout is given the task to try making a landyard, and when asked by Edward Norton how it is coming, he grunts, “terrible”- and then shows the rabbit-foot-dangling mess of plastic to the audience. At a painfully real moment, Sam warns Suzy that he might wet the bed as they look over Tidal Inlet 3.25, their ending stop on their adventure, mentioning that he doesn’t want to offend Suzy.
The main characters, Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky, played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, respectively, were also top notch. Their dialogue was believable and still retained the whimsicality that Anderson weaves into his films so deftly. Suzy’s impractical objects she brings on their adventure (a kitten, books, batteries for her portable record player) as a foil with Sam’s (10 pounds of sundrys, a miniature canoe, an airsoft rifle, Tang, maps, a compass, his tent, etc.) shows their obvious estrangement with reality. Sam and Suzy make their characters laced with tragedy and optimism- Sam is an orphan, while Suzy is deemed a “troubled child”- and it seems that the world meant for them to be together. One scene where Suzy lets Sam pierce her ears with earrings he fashioned from green shiny beetles and fishhooks is especially illustrative of how these two find each other to be on the same level that nobody else seems able to reach. Their romantic moments could have easily become vulgar or unrealistic, but Anderson again skillfully maneuvers the audience and his characters into the uncomfortable moments where Suzy and Sam explore their relationship with pangs of awkward reality.
The setting itself is removed from reality. The small fictional Penzance Island that Anderson creates gives the characters another layer of removal from reality- everybody knows everybody, and this comes to the perfect pitch point when a storm hits the island. Tilda Swinton’s character, known as Social Services, comes in a gorgeous blue outfit and crisp dialogue that gives some biting reality to the people, and her interactions with Bruce Willis’s character, though few, are wondrous.
I cannot forget the scenery and the coloring that Anderson tinges his films with. Yellows, reds, and soft browns give much of the movie a Kodachrome-y feel, and filming of the movie is done in that signature quirky eloquent way that we have come to love so much. Anderson’s use of props to glide us into the setting is utterly flawless, and he doesn’t let his audience get hung up on much- the story moves forward with the landscape, an ever changing wild place. The island itself offers so many places for things to happen: the meadow where Sam and Suzy, via wonderful letters, agree to meet; grassy, tree-lined paths that Captain Sharp drives; the tidal coves and inlets that serve as rendezvous points for many of the characters.
Overall, this might be one of my favorite films of his, ever. It had the pangs that Rushmore gave us, with a hint of the drama that The Darjeeling Limited possessed, the same sadness-soaked The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou feeling, and the wonderful props that filled The Royal Tenenbaums. Although I’m no film critic, I have to say that honestly I felt this was an A+ film.