Top positive review
19 of 19 people found this helpful
innocence and experience
on 28 March 2014
Thanks to two appealing juvenile leads, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" succeeds in engaging and sometimes moving us. Set in coastal New England in 1965, it is about two misfit thirteen-year-olds who fall in love (each, it seems, intuiting the other's "misfittedness") and decide to run away together and set up a home/camp where they can live isolated from the world of their parents and other adult authorities. Since the boy, Sam, has survival skills (he runs away from a scout camp) and the girl, Suzy, is as resourceful in her way (she brings the scissors and other things), they do pretty well. Suzy's parents are two lawyers (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) who seem as indifferent to each other as they are to their children, and their marital conversation is mainly about the cases they're working on. The fact that the mother communicates with her children via bullhorn is obviously both funny and pointed. Sam is an orphan in foster care, and Edward Norton is the well-meaning scoutmaster of Sam's troop. These three adults and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis) are the ones who have to deal with the fact that the young people have run off.
All of that seems ordinary enough, but Anderson frames the story in interesting ways, both visually and dramaturgically. The adult world of the scout camp and Suzy's home is presented in terms of a high degree of linear organization: rooms are boxy and behaviour is regimented to a cartoonish extent, and the regimentation of the scout troop is very clear, and the impression that the viewer gets is of two young people trying to get away from life in a cartoon and escape into something more authentic. The parents and scoutmaster are emotionally incompetent to a comic degree, and the only adult who seems to have an inkling of the kind of freer life the young people want is the sheriff, who in a climactic scene faces down Social Services. Tilda Swindon literally calls herself "Social Services" and that tells us all we need to know about the "flattening" of most of the adult figures in the movie. Swindon is marvelous in the role, and Bruce Willis as her antagonist gives a performance of great charm. Bill Murray here has a role that fits well with his usual deadpan affectless schtick, but he remains, for me at least, a very limited actor. In the course of the movie most of the adults unfreeze to some extent. McDormand, who is presented as being drawn to the sheriff, has a touching scene with her daughter at the end.
Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are Sam and Suzy. Neither actually says "There must be more to life than this" as they view the adult world, but the seriousness with which they take both their escape (very carefully planned) and their affection is both funny and endearing. They are trying to act as the kind of adults that they want to be -- not the kinds of adults who have shaped their lives thus far. The deadpan seriousness with which they take all this is funny -- they even go through a form of marriage and unembarassedly acknowledge their sexual feelings, which seem to them to have nothing to do with their love, which has more to do with their mutual recognition as misfits. The young actors pull off Anderson's conceptions of their characters just about perfectly. One way of understanding them, I think, is to say that they want a narrative, and it's no accident that Suzy takes half-a-dozen storybooks along on the escape, and we see her read aloud from them on several occasions. This perhaps clues us to the idea that adult life in the movie has stopped -- it has no ongoing story, at least as far as the young people can perceive, and no story means no future, so they decide to create their own. Maybe with the onset of adolescence we all do this -- adolescent "rebellion" is a bit of a cliche, but here Anderson manages to find a fresh way of representing it. Maybe too the allusions to Britten's children's opera "Noyes Flood" (based on a medieval drama about Noah) are deployed to suggest this: the flood (looked at in one way) is a chance for a new start, and it is seeing Suzy dressed for the part of a raven in a local performance of the opera that wins Sam's heart, so to speak. The movie ends after its own flood (a hurricane), and if Bob Balaban, the narrator who frames the whole story, is to be believed, it ushers in a sense of renewal that extends even to the crops in subsequent years. With that suggestion, Anderson reminds us of the apparent natural magic of renewal, not only in the natural cycle but in the revelations that can follow crises in narratives. (To put it like that sounds heavy-handed, but the movie itself avoids the portentousness that thematic analysis is prone to fall into!)
I'll avoid spoilers, and say nothing about the fact that there are really two escapes, the details of the storm, the scout troop's pursuit of the runaways, or the sheriff's defense of Sam. It's a comic movie, finally, and it clocks in at just about 90 minutes, so it doesn't drag. The degree of stylization with which the adult world is presented keeps us at the distance required to appreciate both the pains of growing up, the dangers of having grown up, and the need to keep open the possibility of change and (if we're lucky) growth.