I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom so much that my inclination after seeing it was to get back in line and see it again. I have since seen it a second time but allowed a few weeks to pass. I found myself enjoying it even more on a second viewing.
As much of a fan as I have been of Wes Anderson’s other movies, what makes Moonrise Kingdom stand out for me is an emotional depth often lacking in his other works. I have always enjoyed the hyper-stylized look of his films, the witty—albeit sometimes overly precious dialog—and the skillful blend of humor and pathos. All of which are present here, but Moonrise Kingdom moves beyond feeling bad for characters who get themselves into difficult situation to feeling actual emotions for and connections to the characters. In his previous films, you almost want things to continue getting worse for the characters because that’s where the humor lies. In Moonrise Kingdom, you root for the characters.
Set in 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two twelve-year-olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who decide to run away together. Sam is an orphan who is the social outcast of his Khaki Scout troop. Similarly, Suzy is the troubled child of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand’s troubled marriage. The two kids bond because of their problematic home lives, and they run away just days before a terrible storm is about to hit the island.
The chemistry between Gilman’s nerdish Sam and Hayward’s awkward Suzy feels authentic and lends a credibility to their desire to be together. Sam’s training as a Khaki Scout allows them to successfully survive on their own, culminating with them setting up camp in the cove that they will eventually name Moonrise Kingdom. However, their escape comes to an end when the adults and other members of the troop eventually track them down leading to the film’s emotional end as Suzy’s family is repaired and a new one is formed for Sam.
Unlike many of Anderson’s other movies where the style and attention to minutia often feel as if they exist simply in order to exist, the details here contribute to the development of the characters more extensively. Sam’s observance of the things he learned in scouts is important to their survival. Suzy’s fascination with books comes into play in her relationship with Sam and later in creating a bond among other scouts in the troop.
Moonrise Kingdom also has a visual humor not always present in Anderson’s earlier films. One may suspect he has learned some new things about visual language after directing the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Moonrise Kingdom feel like a step forward in artistic achievement for a director who already has made some very fine films.