This film hurt my face. I cannot think of a better theater-going experience than that moment after the lights brighten and I realize I am smiling. I smiled quite a bit during Moonrise Kingdom thanks to Wes Anderson’s fantastical story, the wonderful world that he created and the loveable, goofy characters that he had populate it. Kingdom brings to mind the likes of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, not only through aesthetics and characters, but rather the way that the film captures the nostalgia of being a child.
The story takes place on a New England island where Sam (Jared Gilman), a recently resigned Khaki Scout, deserts his peers to meet up with his pen-pal love, Suzy (Kara Hayward), and set off on an alluring adventure. Armed with Sam’s superb survival and camping skills and Suzy’s collection of fantasy books and a 45 record player she “borrowed” from her brother, the two 12-year olds head to the magnificent cove they later name Moonrise Kingdom.
Anderson is at his best with writing dysfunctional, oddball characters, especially when it comes to families. Though Sam is an orphan who does not seem to be cherished or welcomed by his foster family, Suzy has a family that she must escape from for their journey. Her parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, do not seem like proper parental figures, yet are determined to find Suzy and end this charade. They team up with Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to find the children and inevitably separate them; Suzy coming home, and Sam off to an orphanage. They don’t seem to understand the difficulty of keeping apart two young people in love. Remember Romeo & Juliet?
“Young love” is a phrase often spoken by adults in the real world and in the cinematic. Uttering the words implies that the love being observed is immature, premature and frankly non-existent. But who is to say that young people cannot really be in love? They feel all of the same emotions that everyone one else does, so what exactly is the problem that adults have with this notion? And to make it worse, the adult characters in Moonrise Kingdom, with the exception of Captain Sharp, are not in love themselves, yet determined to end this purest form of it between Sam and Suzy. But of course, love triumphs all. That cliché is the heart of this story.
It is easy to say that Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s most audience-friendly film to date. His heavily influenced European style, most notably French New Wave for this film, can be appreciated by fans of his work and cinephiles alike, but it is the themes of young love and child-like adventure that create a feeling of nostalgia for any moviegoer willing to go along. It doesn’t take a pair of binoculars to see that Moonrise Kingdom is worthy of becoming a modern classic, and perhaps Wes Anderson’s best.