Moonrise Kingdom – 5 stars

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is the best film of the year and the best of Anderson’s career.  Anderson writes and directs fables, where child-like adults attempt to grapple with the expectations of a grown-up world.  In Bottle Rocket, Owen Wilson’s Dignan wants to be a mythical man of the big heist, not a Texas service worker.  In Rushmore, Bill Murray wants to be young again, to erase his choices and capture a tenth of the wonder and promise of Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer.  Gene Hackman’s Royal Tenenbaum won’t grow up but demands the fealty of a family he has abandoned and when it is not forthcoming, he fakes a fatal illness to win them back.  In all of Anderson’s films, the protagonists are stubbornly fleeing from responsibility while demanding the respect accorded responsible people, creating funny and bittersweet scenarios.

Anderson also creates beautiful love stories between those who cannot be together.  Luke Wilson falls immediately in love with the motel worker in Bottle Rocket, yet she cannot speak English. In Rushmore, neither Murray or Schwartzman can have the love of their life, as Murray is too old and Scwartzman too young, and in The Royal Tenenbaums, Gwyneth Paltrow is loved by childhood friend Owen Wilson, who aspires only to be a Tenenbaum; stepbrother Luke Wilson, who exiles himself to lessen the pain; and her husband, Murray, who can only analyze her.  In The Life Aquatic, Murray cannot be with Cate Blanchett, as she sees his b.s. and realizes he can never shed it.  In all his films, Anderson shows us the absurdity of love but he never mocks it or gives in to cynicism.

At root, all Anderson’s films are children’s films for adults, up to and including The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Moonrise Kingdom is similar but has as its leads two children who meet in the summer of 1964, fall in love and defiantly plan an escape from the confines of their New England island in the summer of 1965.  The girl (Kara Hayward) is the troubled daughter of emotionally estranged lawyers Frances McDormand and Murray.  The boy (Jared Gilman) is an unpopular orphan attending scout camp under the supervision of Edward Norton.  In pursuit are McDormand, Norton and Murray as well as the entire scout troop (a moveable, hilarious “Lord of the Flies” troupe), island police chief Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton (who has come to retrieve the boy so he can be sent to reform school) and Schwartzman, who is helping the young lovers on the lam (he’s the King Rat of the scout camp).  The film is charming, comic, and often beautiful.  It brings back the childhood moments of a first kiss, escape and adventure.  The scenes between Hayward and Gilman are poignantly funny and then almost heartbreaking, but Anderson also gives us tender scenes between Murray and McDormand as they confront their distance; Willis and the boy as the former explains his loneliness; and Norton and his tape recorder, as he confesses his inadequacies in scoutmaster logs.

The picture features many of Anderson’s touches, including an inspired soundtrack (courtesy of Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh), a set that presents as a stage play (as in Rushmore, the movie contains an actual stage play), and a narrator (Bob Balaban), though unlike Alec Baldwin in The Royal Tenenbaums, Balaban is on-screen delivering a funny turn as a documentarian.

What transpires is an exciting children’s adventure that will have the same effect on you the adventure book you read under covers with the aid of a flashlight and may transport you to some magical moment in your childhood.  It speaks to those who had a backwoods fort, summer camp spook stories, a secret love to whom you sent letters without a single “LOL” or “OMG”, hidden treasure or, if you were lucky, all of the above.

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