Loyal readers, please welcome Edwin Arnaudin, who will be contributing movie reviews to ashvegas.com. Here you go:
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s magnificent seventh film, plays like a highlight reel of his brief but illustrious career. That’s not to say the film is a rehash of old ideas, but one that epitomizes his strengths, pushes his body of work forward, and encourages captivated viewers to seek out his past offerings.
For loyal fans, it’s another warm, detail-oriented film. For novices, it’s a strong introduction, comprised of the very elements that have earned the writer/director such a passionate following, presented in their most accessible and arguably engaging manner to date.
Set on the fictitious New England island of New Penzance in 1965, the film follows preteens Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) who, after a “love at first sight” encounter, decide to run off together. Neither fit in with their respective home lives, and though their interaction has been limited to written correspondence, they see in one another a chance for happiness that has otherwise proved elusive.
True to Anderson form, however, no one in Moonrise Kingdom is truly happy, and if they think they are, they’re merely delusional. While running away may be a cornerstone of juvenile behavior, considering the adults in their lives, it’s little wonder why Suzy and Sam head off on their own. Essentially overgrown kids themselves, these parents and leaders repeatedly engage in childish acts.
With her husband Walt (Bill Murray) growing increasingly distant, Suzy’s mom Laura (Frances McDormand) sneaks around with sad-sack policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Across the island, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) oversees Sam and other Khaki Scouts at Camp Ivanhoe while trying to forget his real job as a math teacher.
Governed by such models of maturity, Suzy and Sam are the only ones unafraid to change their lives, and when they act on these desires (on the tragic confines of an island, no less), the adults make it their mission to stop them. A more succinct summation of childhood is difficult to find.
The setup and resulting community manhunt is likewise classic Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom presents the filmmaker in full control of his powers, his brushstrokes evident in each crisply shot frame, packed with just the right amount of his trademark idiosyncrasies. From the hand-drawn covers of Suzy’s fantasy novels to an ambitious tracking shot at a Khaki Scout hullabaloo, Anderson builds a world in which each minute detail feels important and contributes to a tangible sense of wonder.
Cued to the majestic sounds of Benjamin Britten compositions, his lonely characters collide and retreat, each working through their own problems to beautiful ends. The film elicits grins early and often, and other than a few instances of the young leads fumbling longer runs of dialogue and a brief goofy scene of Scout heroics (whose sole purpose seems to justify a fairly major cameo), the grin never left my face.
And yet for all its strengths, Moonrise Kingdom isn’t Anderson’s best work. For me, that honor still goes to The Royal Tenenbaums with Rushmore a close second. His latest film is right up there, though, a reminder of his plentiful filmmaking gifts and a treasure for all audiences. It’s also easily the best film of 2012 so far.
Moonrise Kingdom opens locally at the Fine Arts Theatre and The Carolina on Friday, June 29.
For more film reviews, visit The Isolated Moviegoer.