In a recent interview with Cinemablend.com, director Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "Royal Tenenbaums") said that his films are both inspired by the photography he likes and the photography he makes. I don't think anyone who's seen his films will find that surprising: One of the most striking things about Anderson's style is how picturesque each scene is. Everything not only seems perfectly placed, but perfectly crafted and colored.
And that's the first thing one notices in "Moonrise Kingdom," which is, in my opinion, Anderson's best film to date. Every person, outfit, object and building is so carefully considered - the island feels like a craftsman's model filled with dollhouses and the film is like a Matryoshka doll of artistic layers. It's art within art within art: scenes becomes paintings, characters become artists and an elaborate play production becomes an essential scene. So, even if one questions any of the choices Anderson makes throughout the film, at the very least, one respects his artistry.
"Kingdom" is about two young lovers, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), who conspire to run away together on a fictional island off the coast of New England in the 1960s. Sam is an orphaned "khaki scout," a Boy Scout-styled troupe led by the anal but subtly depressed Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton), and Suzy is the oldest child of a dysfunctional family featuring her nearly suicidal father, Walt (Bill Murray), and her bullhorn-touting mother, Laura (Frances McDormand), who's having an affair with Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the local sheriff.
Above, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton are seen in “Moonrise Kingdom.”
The cast is wonderful and if you're worried about Bill Murray being in another Anderson film, set your fears aside. This isn't like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp buddying up again to the detriment of the world - it's obvious that Anderson likes the types of characters Murray can play (humorously depressed) and that he only chooses Murray because the actor fits so well in his worlds (existential absurdities). Their relationship benefits both of them.
But here, Murray takes a backseat to the sublimely casted Gilman and Hayward (both discovered by Anderson) who, despite only being 12 years old at the time, withstand many extreme close-ups and intimate moments and carry the audience away with their immature obsession.
There's an uncomfortable, much-talked-about scene in which the young lovers make out in their underwear, but it's done tastefully and feels necessary to the script.
Anderson is putting us in the world of pre-teen romance and awkward first-kisses are an essential part of that universe. Gilman, suddenly a celebrity, has admitted that the kiss in the film was his first. Can you imagine having your first kiss surrounded by a film crew?
Following Suzy and Sam on the run is real fun, especially since they're being chased by Edward Norton and Bruce Willis, who both give great performances. It's nice to see them actually using their talents instead of floundering in things like "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Expendables." Norton seems like he was born to play the role of Scoutmaster Ward and Willis is at home as a "sad, dumb" police officer who ends up as a sentimental favorite and as a reliable hero. But in Anderson's world, even the "heroes" are a little screwed up. Willis' character, who's already having an affair with Suzy's mom, shares a beer with Sam - encouraging underage drinking isn't very "heroic." Norton's Scout leader, too, despite basically being Ned Flanders, also is a chain-smoker who ends up losing his entire camp of scouts.
As the film goes on, and essential events become more implausible as Anderson's surreal small town reality gives way to more absurdism, some viewers may be lost along the way. Even for me, as a big Anderson fan, the ending feels a little too contrived. But the tenderness of the storytelling combined with the blunt honesty in the dialogue counterbalances the shortcuts Anderson takes in the plot. And moviegoers don't come to Anderson films for realism and plausibility, they come for suspended wonder and hilarity (and now, innocence?) and one would be hard-pressed to find a better example of it than "Moonrise Kingdom."