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Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom

This review contains some minor spoilers for the film. To read them, highlight the invisible text with your mouse. 


To prove that I just don’t watch dusty old DVDs, I went out and caught Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom a few days ago. Of course I sought out something new—and happened to pick a film set in 1965. I have no excuses to offer in defense of my taste, except “hey, at least it’s a couple of decades past World War II.”

Moonrise Kingdom takes place in a sparsely occupied island somewhere in North America. It is a tale of two not-quite-children who meet briefly, become pen pals, and decide to run away together. It’s as quaint as only knee-high socks, Boy Scout uniforms, and portable LP players can make it. Update the era and substitute the words “tween” and “email” and the film probably won’t work, simply because teen runaways in the current decade would probably involve alcohol and gratuitous nudity.

In an alternate universe, Sam and Suzy could have been Romeo and Juliet. But because they are in an oddly cheerful Wes Anderson movie, they traipse around the shoreline in their underwear while playing French pop music, ignoring that almost all the adults on the island are searching for them.

Why they get along becomes obvious even if they have little in common. Suzy doesn’t fit into the natural order of her well-to-do household. She longs for adventure. Sam, an orphan shuttled between foster parents, is an expert at camping and just wants to be loved.

The children are natural in their roles; it’s a testament to their skills that they don’t seem to be acting. (Maybe they aren’t.) Kara Hayward could probably be cast as a young Scarlett Johansson. I find Jared Gilman is a little harder to peg down and that makes him more intriguing. He has great timing and delivery; his eyes are older than the rest of his face.

The adults of Moonrise Kingdom. Images on this post belong to Focus Features.

Whenever there are up-and-coming young actors in films I like, I wring my hands like a maidenly aunt over their futures. I’d prefer if these kids end up to be more like Elijah Wood and less like Lindsay Lohan. Still, even if these kids decide not to pursue any more acting in the future, this movie ensures they will be remembered for being part of something beautiful. Moonrise Kingdom is full of fascinating, subtle details and lovely landscapes. The art direction alone merits a second viewing, and even a third.

The adults aren’t given much to do in the film, but honestly, Moonrise Kingdom is not about them. I’m not sure what it’s all about either. All I know is, once it was over, it was over much too soon—just like the thunderclap of youth.