Starring: Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton
Directed By: Wes Anderson
At one point in Moonrise Kingdom, the latest quirky romp from director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums), the film’s main character, a little boy named Sam, makes earrings made of bugs for his would be love interest, and then proceeds to pierce her ears while out on the beach. Different? Sure. Hilarious? Absolutely. Under less than capable hands, this scene would just seem like a way to make Sam stand out. Be different from other kids that have been portrayed on film. But here, Anderson makes it work to build his character, while also figuring out way after way of making him amusing yet likable. And that ability, combined with a loaded cast, some of which gave unexpectedly different yet out and out great performances, makes Moonrise Kingdom among the best films of the year so far.
One of the things that make this movie so different from others that come out about young people is that there is not a cell phone nor iPad in sight. Instead, it starts off with the young female love interest named Suzy (Hayward, who from some angles looks like a young Sarah Michelle Gellar) peering out of her house using binoculars. It was a nice way to set her up, almost curious, yet involving. Then, we are introduced one by one to the supporting cast. Yes, you read that right. See all those big names after the titles? Those all provide support for runaway trouble maker Sam (Gilman) and his love story with Suzy. Anderson also obviously loves old films, and he makes the best use of split screen since DePalma in his prime. What is also fascinating about the set up to Moonrise Kingdom is that Anderson (who co-scripted with Roman Coppola) has crafted it as a quirky comedy, as well as a dramatic tale about the importance of family.
I have always thought that Norton was an overrated actor. With the exception of American History X, Fight Club, and maybe The Painted Veil, the guy has hardly ever done anything that has grabbed my attention over the years. Which is why I felt he was going to feel completely out of place in a different from anything he has ever done Wes Anderson film. Boy, was I wrong! Norton, quite frankly, has never been as amusing as he is here as Scout Master Ward, the Scout Leader whose troop Sam snuck out on. From yelling about uniform violations to the hilarious way he leads the kids in the search, Norton had me smiling almost every time he was onscreen. Murray and McDormand make an amusing couple (even if their screen time was relatively shorter than I would have expected) and even Willis comes out swinging as Walt. I really did not see this coming, but I was especially impressed with the way Willis was able to pull his character, Sam’s real father, off. As expected, this cast is outstanding to watch work, and the way they bounce one liners & jabs at one another is worth the price of admission alone.
However, once again, the real stars here are the kids. And if Anderson has accomplished anything here, it’s that he has made a film that is hilarious and involving with two kids who you grow to like throughout its entire 94 minute running time. From the beginning, when we haven’t even met him, yet are told by characters that Sam is the least popular kid “by a significant margin,” it endears us to him and makes us curious. And, when we do finally meet him, riding in his boat by himself, he looks as if we are watching a prequel to Anderson’s earlier film Rushmore. Sporting glasses, Gilman is a hoot as Sam. But, the show really belongs to Hayward. I loved her character of Suzy in this movie, and it was real sweet seeing the parallels between her and Sam. She shows to be just as introverted when we see her in a red dress peering through binoculars from her house. She is bored, and we root for her and Sam to make it. Does it happen? I won’t say here. Although, what I will say is that I have not seen bad weather factor into an ending like this since Karate Kid Part 2. Hilarious, quirky, and telling, I highly recommend Moonrise Kingdom. While its cast is excellent, Anderson has made them all act in a way that they have all have never done before. And, when you have a cast like this (including a dressed in all blue Swinton), that’s saying something.
PS: Stick around for the end credits. While you won’t get the proverbial Marvel type extra scene, you will be witness to a highly amusing way to play the final end credits song that you have never seen before.