The problem I’ve had with Wes Anderson’s recent films is that he’s been trying too hard to be Wes Anderson. The quaint, eccentric vibe that made Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums so distinctive and delightful was missing in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. Sure, the characters in those movies had their share of quirks and their behavior was just as odd, but everything seemed forced, as if they were behaving in this way simply because they were in a Wes Anderson film. None of what the characters did seemed organic or natural in any way, which made the movies themselves seem like stilted exercises rather than distinct, honest works from the filmmaker.
Anderson got his footing back with Fantastic Mr. Fox and delivers a work reminiscent of his earlier work with his latest, Moonrise Kingdom. Sweet, romantic and genuine, the film focuses on two young lovers who run away, an act that serves as a wakeup call for the citizens of the small community where they live. They rally together in an effort to find them, putting aside their petty differences and taking stock of their own lives in the process.
With the sense of whimsy prevalent in all of Anderson’s films, there’s never a doubt that the runaways – Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) – will be found and returned safely. What’s in question is how this will impact the adults of Moonrise Kingdom. Suzy’s parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) walk around in a haze, he consumed by his work, she dissatisfied with being left no other options than being a mother. That she’s forced to use a megaphone to communicate with her kids only adds insult to injury. Seeking solace in the arms of the island’s only police officer, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), hasn’t helped her deal with her feelings of loneliness, though it’s obvious he’s become smitten with her. Meanwhile, Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) is beside himself for having let Sam wander off during a camping exercise and hopes for a chance to redeem himself.
Gilman and Hayward both make their film debut here. The unaffected, natural performances they give set a foundation of honesty for the movie that affects every frame. The earnestness they project as their characters innocently let each other in is so sweet and genuine that we’re immediately won over by them both. You can’t help but try to remember how it was to feel so sure about being in love at such a young age. The scenes they share at the various campsites they pitch are suffused with unabashed innocence as they connect over their plans and feelings in a way they never could with adults. Without question, this is the most honestly romantic film of the year.
Seeing their devotion to each other impacts those who’ve been looking for them. The veteran cast members respond with subtle, powerful responses. Murray, the master of underplaying, makes each of his moments matter, registering just enough of a response to the prospect of losing his daughter and the relief in getting her back to show us that Walt has been profoundly affected yet is unsure how to express himself or even know how to progress. McDormand is just as good, conveying Laura’s sense of loneliness beneath her frantic behavior, while Willis reminds us that he’s much more than America’s action hero and that he needs to challenge himself more often with projects such as this.
Seen through a nostalgic lens, Moonrise Kingdom prompts us to search for our own oasis, a place where we can find and nurture our true selves and be free. Harboring some sense of hope and having expectations no matter what stage of life we’re in is essential to stoking a sense of the romantic in each of us, a welcome reminder from Anderson who seems to taken his own advice
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.