Moonrise Kingdom: The Autostraddle Review

Moonrise Kingdom opened yesterday. I hope that you see it as soon as possible.

Wes Anderson’s seventh full-length feature, and his first in 5 years (since my own life story, The Darjeeling Limited), is charming, enveloping, seriously funny, and beautiful.

It is set (for a long while) on the island of Penzance. The year is 1963.

The plot focuses around the love of Sam and Suzy, two 12-year-old children who meet backstage at a church performance of “Noah’s Ark.” One year later, and after many letters exchanged, the children arrange to meet and begin a life together. Suzy (Kara Hayward), the oldest of four and her parents’ only daughter, lives on the island. She takes her brother’s portable record player, a Francoise Hardy album, stolen fantasy books from the library and her cat.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan staying at  Camp Ivanhoe with the Khaki Scouts. He submits a letter of resignation and remarks that he does not think many of his colleagues will miss him. He wears a fur hat and his Khaki Scout uniform, and brings a map and supplies.

Once Troop 55’s Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and Suzy’s parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) discover that the children are missing, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) of the Island Police is notified. He begins a search for them, although it is difficult to manage such a thing on an island where mail is delivered by jet and most transportation follows dirt paths across stretches of land. Eventually, Sam’s entire Khaki Scout troop is also enlisted to assist in the search. The film will follow the two lovebirds from journey to journey and island to island, all in the name of love–as well as their increasingly desperate and emotional search team.

There are some ongoing themes familiar to those of us acquainted with Anderson’s work: the failed marriage between Suzy’s parents, a subsequent affair and the struggle for self-worth plaguing most of the adult characters in the film. The spin is that this time around, Anderson has put those plotlines on the backburner (using them only for context and as sideplots) and given us a tale of real love instead.

Moonrise stays true to form for Anderson with a flawless cinematic approach, an eccentric plotline and cast of characters and whimsical charm. But it introduces new character types into Anderson’s work as well, including Norton’s sweet Scoutmaster Ward and Willis’ goofy Captain Sharp. Unlike many of his other films, this one made me laugh out loud — multiple times — and it wasn’t just because I was sipping a Stella Artois at the advanced screening.

As expected, the dialogue is superb and sparse, the clothing impeccable and the acting spot-on. Anderson’s first period piece hits a home run in being just as relevant, familiar and bizarre as the rest of his work. You barely even notice the time difference, most likely because you own a record player anyway and even more likely because most of Anderson’s work appears to be created in some sort of magical time vacuum anyway.

What is most striking about this film is the idea that these children, whom we would usually perceive as being out of the realm of understanding we possess, actually have emotional and rational depth exceeding some of the people I went to college with. Despite being outsiders averse to making friends, the two find an instant connection with one another. They do not expect for their young romance to be perfect, just strong, honest and everlasting. They refuse to be apart from the instant they meet, despite knowing little about one another to begin with. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s because it’s a Wes Anderson love story; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite protests from their parents, authority figures and local police, throughout the film, Sam and Suzy demand that their connection be respected and upheld as what it is: love.

I’m a total sap for love plotlines and Anderson’s delivery could not be more perfect. The young protagonists give us the best metaphor of all: that being in love is a journey, and that it can both reduce you to your basic elements and change who you are. It’s a journey well-represented by the film as irrational, brave, eccentric, over-the-top and unpredictable.

To anyone else who has dreamt of a love that means open sailing, time spent laying on the grass, wiping one another’s tears, sharing stories and reading favorite books, taking care of one another, standing up for one another and braiding flowers into one another’s hair: the moment is here. This movie made me remember that being in love for the first time, or the fifth time or the nineteenth time, can be a lot of things but it can never be a choice. These two characters call out for one another and in the realm of impossibility.

Love stories are typically saved for the Heroes, but all of Anderson’s characters, from Sam to Scoutmaster Ward, enjoy some sort of love within the film–though most are not beautiful or perfect or commonplace. They are deeply flawed and eerily unique. Over the course of the film, each character learns not only how to love someone else — as a lover, partner, friend or parent — but also how to allow others to love them and how to love themselves. They remain imperfect, but they will never be the same. All love changes you, and that is exhibited by the multidimensional representations of affection, compassion and care exhibited through the various relationships in the film.

The film is a must-see, Wes Anderson fan or not. If you’re not typically engaged in Anderson’s work, this might be the perfect entry point–it is simpler, sweeter, and funnier than most of his other pieces. If you’re a huge fan of Anderson’s work, fear not the rumors that said this movie would be “lazy” or otherwise untrue to his brand. This movie is most definitely a part of Anderson’s genius and you’re not going to want to miss it.

Like most of Anderson’s work, the film is eventually about determination, overcoming emotional boundaries, and personal growth; unlike most of his characters, Sam and Suzy lay the groundwork for humor instead of emotional bewilderment, innocence versus slight depression and a love you’ll probably envy.  They brave storms, bodies of water, strange mountains, unmapped islands and the threat of Social Services to be with one another because they are certain that nobody else comprehends why it must be that way and because of that, they are in charge of making it so. I think sometimes that maybe all love is supposed to feel that way: immediate, necessary, important. The urgency of love goes unmatched and always unmet.

Of course you root for it to win.

And did I mention the sailboats?

Profile photo of Carmen

Carmen is the Feminism and Straddleverse Editor at Autostraddle, meaning she helps expand your mind and your queer girl clique. She's mother to the most adorable dog on Earth and hates paying more than one dollar for a good slice of pizza. At times, she self-identifies as "the baddest bitch." You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr because it makes her feel good about herself when people do.

Carmen has written 574 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Thanks for the review – I will definitely be seeing this one.

    I have been disappointed with his last few films because I use (the excellent) Rushmore as comparison. Bottle Rocket is probably my next favorite. There were elements of the others that I loved, but the characters of Rushmore felt more real despite their quirks and the film felt better formed. Also I think his style suits films about childhood/adolescence.

  2. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Dying. To. See. It.

    Opens June 1st in Vancouver. I would like to be there. Wish I had a beer in hand, not so common at first run theatres here.

    My heart belongs to Royal Tenenbaums, then Life Aquatic, Darjeeling, Rushmore, then Bottle Rocket. Unconventional perhaps, for W.A. fans… but truth, nonetheless.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.