Smile Politely

Wes Anderson must see the world through binoculars

Moonrise Kingdom is the newest film from acclaimed director Wes Anderson. People are shocked when I say I have never seen a film by him.

Moonrise Kingdom spotlights the relationship between Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop in 1965. Sam is a Khaki Scout. He decides after being mistreated by other scouts that he wants to run away with Suzy Bishop. Suzy’s problem is that she completely fails to control her anger and bad things happen as a result. Basically, the film has two kids who feel life has dealt them an unfair hand and they decide to run away together to the wilderness as a way to escape the problems they have to deal with on a daily basis.

This film is very visual and there is no such thing as a wasted shot. Every moment in this story has a purpose that goes beyond displaying the narrative. The items that Sam and Suzy carry with them are simple things kids would bring with them on an adventure in the wilderness but, for some reason, what they carry with them not only showcases their personality, but also helps to identify what items are important to them in life. Suzy brings three books with her because she loves to read. She also brings a record player owned by her brother because she loves music. The items Sam brings on the trip are not really physical things as much as they are personality traits. He brings with him an understanding of the wilderness and a quiet confidence that he can handle himself in dangerous situations.

Moonrise Kingdom is one of the few films that reminds me what it feels like to love when you are young. To be honest, I don’t know how to put the romance between Sam and Suzy into words other than to call it pure. The two characters only want to care for and support each other once they fall in love. Their hearts are wide open to be cared about once they both feel they have found their soulmate and companion in each other. The relationship between Suzy and Sam is what every married couple hopes for, but few can actually get to where the kids are emotionally without some moments of conflict. 

The love between Suzy and Sam is what holds Moonrise Kingdom together. Every second the characters are together as a couple I found myself rooting for them to find peace and happiness with each other. To put it simply, the love between Suzy and Sam feels real and, by the film’s closing credits, I found myself wanting what they have.

The supporting actors of Moonrise Kingdom are some of Hollywood’s finest doing some of their best acting work. Bill Murray makes his sixth appearance in a Wes Anderson film as Suzy’s heartbroken father. He is heartbroken because he knows his wife is being unfaithful to him and is having an affair with a police officer.

Frances McDormand portrays the cheating wife of Bill Murray’s character. Bruce Willis plays the police officer investigating Suzy and Sam’s disappearance. Edward Norton is the Khaki Scout troop leader who believes in Sam and wants the other scouts to treat Sam fairly.

What I love about this supporting cast is that all of the characters become a community who work together to find the lost kids and you grow to understand these adults more as the film goes on.

The other surprise in Moonrise Kingdom is the music, which is a mixture of lush orchestral arrangements and great Hank Williams’ songs that put you into the kids’ environment. The orchestral arrangements often involve the use of a children’s choir, which provides the music to support the theme of the innocence of young love and the thrill of adventure that these kids seem to feel. The music does not distract the audience from the story; it enhances it.

I have longed to have an experience at the movies and this film does that. Moonrise Kingdom reminds me of everything I wanted to feel when experiencing the idea of loving someone for the first time. It is an experience that is only flawed by the fact that it had to end.

Moonrise Kingdom is the movie of the summer for me and, in my mind, a possible contender for movie of the year. See it with someone you love and it will remind you why you fell for them in the first place.

5/5 stars (Chike Coleman)

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Wes Anderson begins Moonrise Kingdom with a series of carefully framed shots, continuing his mastery usage of objects, space, color, and design layout. We’re introduced to the characters as the screen moves left to right, as if we are reading one of the adventurous tales that Suzy herself might enjoy. Characters appear in frames within the frame of the shot itself — framed by walls, doorways, windows, houses, bushes, or other man-made structures that come to life within those frames. Once things have been framed and displayed we can look more closely look to find the treasures that await discovery.

Character drives Anderson’s work. He layers his characters and captures subtlety in a way unlike any other filmmaker I’ve ever seen. He’s able to conjure magic out of his actors, turning words on a page into more than lines, but heartfelt phrases that are telling, charming, and often times hilarious. But you wouldn’t really get a sense of all of that if he didn’t craft each character so perfectly project after project, comingling words and objects into a cohesive piece of art. He’s meticulous in the way he constructs it all, framing characters and objects then tearing them down and putting them back together again before you even realize that it happened.

Anderson’s films are always enriched by the accompanying music and this time he chooses old Hank Williams’ tunes and the music of British composer Benjamin Britten to tie it all together. It’s at a production of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde where Sam finds Suzy and the hymns become the play-along songs to go with their adventure book story.

Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are the heart of the film, awkward star-crossed lovers brought together by their tempers, frustration, and neglect. They’re loners who find one another and can bond over adventure and art. Sam is the least popular scout “by a wide margin,” and he’s more invested in studying indigenous cultures like the Chicchaw, spouting out “useful” camping tips, and painting rather than investing time making friends with his peers.

Suzy is wrapped in her adventurous heroine novels and tries to hone her own magic powers, which she claims to get through her binoculars. They help her see things more closely, even if they’re not far away.

Suzy is considered a troubled child by her disconnected parents, the Bishop attorney/parenting duo, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand). The Bishops don’t need much screen time for you to understand what their relationship is like and how Suzy has come to grow up the way that she has. Every look, action, and word from the Bishops delves deeper into their family dynamic.

Ward (Edward Norton), Scout Master and “math teacher on the side,” is the Keystone Kop version of Tyler Durden, who tries to ensure proper attire, protocol, and procedure for the good of the organization but often comes up short in his good-willed attempts. He has to keep emotions at bay in his Khaki scout troop, who are the “beige lunatics” willing to use force to capture escaped Sam.

The great ensemble cast continues with Tilda Swinton as Social Services, Jason Swartzman as Cousin Ben, and Bruce Willis, a fantastic Captain Sharp. Sharp may be “sad” and, frankly, not that sharp in wit after all, but he’s not too dumb to realize that people make mistakes. 

There’s so much I could say about this film but it’s best not to really do so until you’ve seen it. It’s the most purely enjoyable film I’ve seen in a long time and just a joy to watch (even twice in one day). I wasn’t even through my first screening on Friday before I thought, “I can’t wait to watch this again tonight.” You just need to experience and see it for yourself to really learn why. Even Captain Sharp would know that.

4/4 stars (Jeremiah Stanley)

Moonrise Kingdom is now playing at the Art Theater. Check see their site for updated showtimes.


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