Netflixing: Moonrise Kingdom

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Wes Anderson might be something of an acquired taste.

For if the viewer is unaccustomed to wide-angle shots of symmetrical setpieces captured at horizon level, with actors looking directly into the camera, giving the feel more of a televised stage play than of a motion picture, they may find his approach to be…off putting.

Likewise, if the viewer is unfamiliar with deadpan performances of characters behaving with a self-seriousness that belies their station, in a stiff-lipped satire that exposes the incredulity of social structures, and often includes animals and/or children spouting lines that intentionally sound like they were written for adult parts, they may not appreciate the nuance and layering of the work.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that Mr. Anderson’s style—which is instantly recognizable—is the same both in his live action films as well as his stop motion animated films.

And while Moonrise Kingdom is not his best movie (*cough* *cough* Isle of Dogs *cough*) nor his worst (*cough* *cough* The Royal Tenenbaums *cough*), it remains one of his best remembered and most beloved works. With a fabulous cast of both A-list actors and complete newcomers, a beautiful naturalistic setting, and a delicious tension between the serious and the absurd, there’s a lot to take in here. I’d have to be a complete prick to even try.

Anyway, let’s get started.

The Story

Two twelve-year-olds, one sick of her oblivious and unsupportive parents, the other an orphan stuck at a scout camp, decide to—for lack of a better word—elope together.

That’s pretty much the entire story. It happens on a couple of fictional islands off the coast of New England. There is a hurricane on its way to the location that acts as the story’s ticking time bomb. In the meantime, we have two young people starting a life together, and a host of authority figures trying to stop them.

There is the bumbling police chief, who is more competent at having secret affairs with local housewives than with rescuing anyone in danger.

There is the straightlaced scoutmaster who treats his job like the world depended on it.

There are the scouts, who behave like their organization is military preparatory training (which, for most of its life, the Boy Scouts of America actually was), are armed to the teeth, and approach the simple problem of a scout’s resignation as if they were living out the plot of Fullmetal Jacket.

And while the pacing may be slow at times, the parts that move the story along are quirky/insane enough to keep the viewer invested. The love story between the children is adorable, and the chemistry between their characters is real, albeit delivered with strategic deadpan. It’s easy to root for them, even though their relationship would likely never work in the real world.

Likewise, we are frustrated at all the adults in the room trying to break up the young couple, especially considering that none of these adults can claim the moral high ground, with their own moral and intellectual failings. Yet we also sympathize with most of these characters, as we realize that their foibles are not born of malice or narrowmindedness, but from the ordinary human inability to live up to our own ideals, and while our ideals condemn us for not meeting them, they also ennoble us as we strive to obtain them.

The Archetypes

One great thing about Moonrise Kingdom, and perhaps about Wes Anderson films overall, is how the story rescues orphaned archetypes that still hold iconic value, even though they have been neglected by storytellers for decades.

Sam and Suzy, our two romantic leads, are like something out of the silent movie era. For all his shrimpiness, Sam is written as a ingeniously masculine hero, with top-notch wilderness survival skills, gentlemanly disposition, and single-minded devotion to his bride. Suzy, likewise, is courageously feminine, choosing love over family, at times prim and coy, patient with Sam’s displays of chivalry, yet also hot tempered enough to defend their relationship with violence.

Comparisons with Romeo and Juliet are appropriate, with the caveat that Moonrise Kingdom depicts a relationship that is both more innocent and more mature than what we find with Shakespeare’s most celebrated romance. Sam and Suzy don’t compare each other to the sun or to roses or any such poetic heights. Their love is more practical, like a young husband and wife starting out in their first house. It is fun to watch them build a life together, and it charms in ways that few other love stories do.

My Judgment

Wes Anderson is one of those delightful and rare breeds of creative people who can be both wildly artistic and deeply entertaining (well, most of the time, anyway).

I still prefer his animated outings to his live-action ones. Yet, I have to say that Moonrise Kingdom is a delicious movie. It suffers from a little slowness in the middle, but there is no part of it that does not feel rich, like a layered, dark chocolate dessert. It is high satire with heart, and that’s a hard thing to come by.

That it can be freely enjoyed on Netflix is a boon to us all. I recommend that you add it to your list and watch it at your next availability.


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