By Laurie Coker

Rating: A

Wes Anderson appears to be fond of odd-ball, peculiar characters – like those in The Royal Tennenbaums , The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore, and now in the laugh-out-loud, weird and wholly enjoyable Moonrise Kingdom, he gives us perhaps some of the quirkiest ever.  He has a knack for pulling together an exceptional cast and creating a wacky world of the curious and unconventional. In Moonrise Kingdom, a film that has a Fantastic Fox narrative feel, he introduces us to two young actors who shine even brighter than his all-star cast.

Set in 1965, the tale is told from the perspective of a narrator of sorts (Bob Balaban), he himself an odd person and begins with the morning routine of a den of “khaki” scouts, lead by Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton), who along with his boys discovers that one scout, Sam (Jared Gilman), disliked by the others, has flown the coop and resigned as a khaki. Ward alerts the Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who begins the investigation and soon discovers that Suzy (Kara Hayward), a young, generally unhappy girl, is missing too. Their ‘tween romance is at the heart of screenwriters Anderson and Roman Coppola’s story. Both kids struggle to fit in at home – he with a foster family, she with parents Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray) and (Francis McDormand) and in life. The determined pair, after a chance meeting and a series of clandestine letters, decides to run away. Soon, Sam’s den (at first with ill intentions) and their leader, Suzy’s parents and Captain Sharp are in hot pursuit.

Filled to the brim with outlandish, almost cartoonish images, wild characters and brilliant colors (so very 60’s), Anderson and Coppola’s story plays out in vivid imagery – from lightening strikes to rushing waters and sweet intimate scenes of first kisses to innocent acts of desperation, emotion and passion. Through all this, Moonrise Kingdom takes its audience, especially those of us over forty, back to those times of simple love. As a director Anderson literally captures the 1960’s. Gilman and Hayward, both in their first feature role, delight – their portrayals of Sam and Suzy are flawless, and make every second they are on screen, especially together, sheer pleasure to watch. They depict the innocence and the intensity of their romance with flawlessness.

The cast as a whole, too, is perfect. Willis, Murray, Norton and McDormand each embody their quirky (and somehow extremely authentic) personages. And Tilde Swinson, as “Social Services” impresses, even with her limited screen time. Also delightful are Jason Schwartzman as a helpful scout leader; and Harvey Keitel as the hard-assed commander of all scouts, who at one point strips Scout Master Ward of his post, only to be rescued by him from a wild accidental explosion.

On the surface, one might consider Anderson and Copolla’s story, characters and telling, ridiculously over –the-top, but it is not, not really. Yes, it runs an unusual and, at times improbable, path, and does play out quite cartoonishly, but the characters and their lives are exceptionally realistic, making them especially relatable. In Sam and Suzy we see puppy love, confusion, broken promises, loneliness, childhood angst and so very much more. In the film’s adults we see many of the same things and in ourselves too – oh so nostalgic in tone and theme.

Rated PG-13, Moonrise Kingdom, is a special and unique film, beautifully captured, splendidly acted and pleasingly perfect.  I would love to see it again, if for no other reason than to watch its talented young actors and their character’s sweet story, but more to catch more of Anderson’s details – he is a master of detail in this and most of his films. I am placing a solid A in my grade book. I feel certain it will sit at the top of my list for the year.





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