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WGUC Reviews

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom
Indian Paintbrush
Rated PG-13
Now Showing at: various venues - check local listings.
Review by: Larry Thomas


Filmmaker Wes Anderson has spent his career developing his own particular style, as well as a devoted fan base that is attuned to that style. His comparatively short list of credits began in 1996 with Bottle Rocket, and has included films such as The Royal Tenenbaums, which many consider his best, and The Darjeeling Express, which I consider his worst. But like him or not, Wes Anderson always takes you someplace you never consider going.

His newest work Moonrise Kingdom succeeds admirably in combining his penchant for whimsy and absurdity, with serious themes. Set on a New England island in September 1965, Sam is a twelve-year-old Khaki Scout with his troop at a campground. None of the other scouts like him, and he is the eternal outsider. Sam encounters Suzy, a bewitching peer who is an outsider within her own family, all of whom live in a large house on the island. Sam and Suzy seem destined for each other. Through correspondence, in that era when people still actually wrote letters, they agree to meet and run away together.

If this may sound like a typically slight coming-of-age tale, it’s not. Sam and Suzy come in to this relationship carrying their own baggage, literally and figuratively, with secrets and problems beyond their years. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both making their first film, play Sam and Suzy, and prove they’re more than capable of creating fascinating characters.

The adults in the tale are also a dream cast for any director. Bruce Willis is the hapless lawman of the island, in a role that’s a 180 from his standard action hero. Edward Norton plays the scoutmaster at the campground with nerdish charm. Suzy’s parents, both of whom are lawyers, are Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. In smaller roles we find the versatile Tilda Swinton as a character known only as “Social Services,” the great Bob Balaban as a one-man Greek chorus and narrator, and Harvey Keitel playing a senior scoutmaster at another campground.

The art direction, particularly the house where Murray and family live, is one of the best uses of architecture as a character since Jerry Lewis filmed The Ladies Man in 1961. There’s another set that, while looking like one thing, is actually something else, and is great fun to watch.

I also liked that Moonrise Kingdom deftly blended the serious aspects of the tale with the whimsy of Anderson’s style so that, even though the serious things are worthy of concern, they’re just part of life and that there may not be anything that’s totally hopeless.

Also a big plus is the music score which combines original music by Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat, with several themes by Benjamin Britten, especially his “A Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra.” And then, sometimes Anderson drops in a Hank Williams tune just to keep it interesting.

Which it is. Moonrise Kingdom is interesting, charming, touching, funny, sad, and hopeful, and well worth your time in a theatre seat.

The PG-13 rated Moonrise Kingdom is not playing everywhere, so check the listings to find the cinematic campground that suits you best.


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