“Moonrise Kingdom” is as charming and innocent as Wes Anderson’s film can be. As a picturesque tale about a little romantic elopement, the movie has that sweet aspect we have seen from such films as “Melody”(1971) and “Small Change”(1976) along with that distinctive deadpan attitude we have observed from Anderson’s previous works. The characters are more or less than caricatures and their world has artificial qualities, but there is something sad and melancholic beneath their quirky personalities and comic circumstances, and that makes that little romance at the center of the story both endearingly real and magical.
The warped reality of the movie is apparent right from its background, which is a remote island probably somewhere around the New England area during 1965. It is not that big, but it is big enough for the entire cast of the film, who seem to be only inhabitants of this serene island. In case of Suzy Bishop(Kara Hayward), a smart girl who reminds me a lot of my childhood filled with various books, she lives with her untypical family in the house with a lighthouse at the one end of island. They are not so close to each other, but they have been accustomed to being stuck with each other while having each own place in their house, whose interior is as tidy and orderly as dollhouse.
This certainly looks artificial, but Anderson draws our attention with precise composition and loving little details sprinkled throughout the screen as we are amused by the oddness inside his characters. For instance, Suzy’s mother, Mrs. Bishop(Frances McDormand), uses a megaphone to call her daughter and three little sons from downstairs when dinner is ready for them. When we see Scout Master Ward(Edward Norton) for the first time, he is busily handling his little scouts in the camp in a way a little too exemplary and diligent; I especially like his no-nonsense response to a tree house misguidingly constructed by his scouts.
One of Ward’s scouts is Sam(Jared Gilman), an introverted orphan boy with quiet sincerity behind his big glasses. It turns out that he and Suzy have been secretly corresponding with each other through letters since they had a chance encounter between them a year ago, and they have recently decided to have their private time as little lovers without telling anyone. When they meet at their rendezvous spot, they are adequately prepared; as a good scout, Sam knows how to get to a certain place in the island, and Suzy brings books to read along with her little kitten and a record player.
They arrive at a little cove. Sam exemplarly sets the tent for them, and Suzy nicely sets the mood for them, and they have a happy time together as a boy and a girl in love. They may be too young for the adult matters in romantic relationship, but they are smart kids who have no confusion about the mutual feelings between them while admitting their limit as kids(“I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” – “I love you, too,”). As they spend more time together, their cove becomes special enough to get its new name besides its original bland name.
They probably know that the time is short for them even though they manage to hide from the adults in the island. Mrs. Bishop worry about her missing daughter, and Mr. Bishop(Bill Murray) is as detached as Murray can be while also deeply concerned about Suzy. The local sheriff Captain Sharp(Bruce Willis) try to find Sam and Suzy, and so does Scout Master Ward, who leads his scouts to search for their missing member(these scout boys are so eager to capture Sam that they even bring an axe and a bow during their search). Later, as our narrator(Bob Balaban) forecasts, a big storm is coming to the island as the climax, and there also comes a woman from Social Services(Tilda Swinton), who, as a strict bureaucrat, is very determined to get Sam back to a ‘juvenile refuge’, which can be as bad as a Dickensian orphanage.
All these things in the movie are handled well with the calm deadpan approach by the director/co-writer Wes Anderson. His characters never reach for laughs while being serious about their circumstance no matter how much they look offbeat or whimsy. The movie maintains a dry, detached attitude to its story, but there are also understated emotions in its detachment, which are glimpsed through the adult characters grounded in their melancholic reality. The movie is also exquisite to look at thanks to the deft use of color tones on the screen, and the cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman does an excellent job of providing appropriate ambience to the story, which is enhanced further by the memorable soundtrack mainly consisting of Benjamin Britten’s classic pieces and Hank William’s songs and Alexandre Desplat’s intimate score.
The performers adjust their performances well to the deadpan atmosphere of the movie. While Bill Murray is born to be in Anderson’s movies with his usual detached persona(It is their sixth collaboration), the other actors including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Switon, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban give nice offbeat performances as the interesting denizens of Anderson’s whimsy world. As the main hero and the main heroine of the movie, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman share a precious little chemistry while never looking too cute or too precocious, and they deftly balance themselves well between being funny and being sincere.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is basically a fantasy tale with a fair share of implausible moments. But, like any other good fantasy tales, it is grounded in the believable reality and convincing characters to pull us into its heart, and it leaves us some touching truth about love in our life. As implied in its finale, romantic moment never lasts long, and it eventually goes away into somewhere in our memories – but something else can be grown and extended from that as we move on in our life.