Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

“I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? That’s the feeling Wes Anderson tried to recreate with Moonrise Kingdom. It’s a story that focuses primarily on two kids—a rarity for Anderson. Even his children’s movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, focused on the father of the family. The closest he’s come to this before was with Rushmore, which focused on a high school student. Moonrise Kingdom focuses on a pair of 13-year-olds, and it is, appropriately, filled with a sense of wonder and innocence that’s missing in most of his movies, which are more about disenfranchised adults who have trouble with relationships. Those adults are still here, but they’re in the background. The real story is in how these kids come together, although the relationships the adults have serve as a terrific foil for this. I wouldn’t say this is Anderson’s best film, but it’s probably his sweetest and most wholesome, and it absolutely deserves some attention.

The plot follows two pre-teens: Sam, a young orphan boy who has trouble fitting in with his peers, and Suzy, a young girl with a vague discontent that is starting to manifest in some behavioral issues. The two meet a year before the film takes place and exchange a series of letters, eventually falling in love and making plans to run away together the next summer when Sam comes back to summer camp. The two do run off together, and the adults of the movie drop everything to look for them and try to protect them the best they can.

How can we help her? She’s got so many problems. It’s getting worse. Whose fault is it?

As with most Anderson movies, there’s something deeper going on here, although it’s not that hard to grasp. He set out to capture what it was like to fall in love for the first time, and he shows that—but, now that he’s an adult, he contrasts that with what he knows adult love is truly like. The concept of two 13-year-olds running off together and surviving in the wilderness is a bit ridiculous, but the adults in the film are shown to be just as clueless about relationships as these two kids. The adults go way out of their way to prove that they’re the authority figures, and will mostly only refer to each other by titles: Captain Sharp, Scout Master Ward, Mrs. Bishop, and even a woman who is only referred to as Social Services. The adults are harboring this deep-seated anxiety that others will discover that they have no idea what’s really going on, and they scramble to cover that up, although they eventually have to come to grips with this quandary. There’s a scene where a wife says to her husband, “We’re all they’ve got,” and her husband responds, “That’s not enough.” While that’s happening, we have a pair of kids who want to be together simply because they’re in love, and the contrast makes that much sweeter.

Suzy in an artistic shot from Moonrise Kingdom
This is a Wes Anderson film, so the art direction is quirky, vintage, and beautiful.

The mood of the film is whimsical, light, and sweet, although still rich in that trademark Anderson dry humor and with a strong hint of failing relationships hiding just beneath the surface. Most Anderson films have a bittersweet feel, but this one is definitely more sweet than bitter. It’s not a children’s movie. It’s a movie about children, made for adults, meant to bring us back to those simpler memories of innocence and purity. The film is not blinded by its innocence, as most children’s movies are, nor does it relegate the children to support roles, as most adult movies. It sits in a strange spot, not entirely unique (Stand By Me comes to mind as something similar), but not often seen in cinema.

Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet and entertaining art house film brimming with style and substance. It may not be as charming and evocative as some of Anderson’s other films, like Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Royal Tenenbaums, but it’s fun and very accessible, and it’s a breath of fresh air in a sea of movies that glorify cynicism and brokenness. It may be a little too whimsical or abstract for some, but I think most will find something to like here.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:34
Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 2012
Genres: adventure, comedy, drama, romance
Rating: PG-13

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