Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Wes Anderson creates a storybook world at the opening of "Moonrise Kingdom," with his camera sweeping over the rooms, belongings and people in the New England home of the Bishops. The sideways tracking shot establishes the 1960s setting as well as reveals details about the people in the home, and it will probably be considered one of the most masterful opening scenes this year.
The mother (Frances McDormand) and the father (Bill Murray) appear to be living in separate worlds. Both of them are lawyers. They sleep in separate beds. And they call each other ‘Counselor.' When the mother speaks to her children, she doesn't go near them but uses a megaphone.
We also see three brothers who are gathered around a portable record player listening to Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra." They seem distant from their older sister, Suzy (Kara Hayward). And though the family might appear to be comfortable, Anderson provides subtle clues of alienation with deadpan humor.
Shortly after, Anderson takes us to another locale — Camp Ivanhoe, under the command of the imperious, chain-smoking Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).
The camera follows Scout Master Ward as he surveys the boys in his charge, strolling down an outdoor assembly line and barking instructions to the scouts. But Ward will soon learn that he's not completely in charge of one of his boys — the bespectacled, coonskin-cap-wearing Sam (Jared Gilman).
Unlike most of today's directors, Anderson is carefully orchestrating "Moonrise Kingdom." Just as Britten describes the various components of classical music to the Bishop boys, Anderson is setting up various levels of characters who are looking for some kind of emotional connection.
In a flashback, Anderson reveals that Suzy and Sam, the obvious outcasts in both of his opening scenes, have fallen for each other after meeting at a performance of Britten's "Noye's Fludde." The two have been exchanging letters, and they've concocted a scheme: Sam will flee Camp Ivanhoe in a canoe, meet Suzy in a nearby field, and they'll hike into the woods, set up camp and create their own kind of music.
So one morning, Sam gathers his supplies, cuts a hole in his Camp Ivanhoe tent and makes his way to Suzy. She arrives at a predetermined meeting site a bit less prepared. She's wearing a dress and saddle oxfords. And among her belongings are a cat in a basket and a suitcase filled with fantasy books and a portable record player.
Before long, the adults realize that the two children are missing, and the island's only police officer, Capt. Sharp (Bruce Willis) launches a search.
The dramatic tension builds because an onscreen narrator (Bob Balaban) periodically keeps us abreast of a major storm approaching the island.
During the search, we discover more details about the sources of alienation for Sam and Suzy. Sam is an orphan, and he has been living in a foster home where he is no longer welcome. Suzy, who always seems to carry a pair of binoculars, has been spying on her mother, who's having an affair with Capt. Sharp.
Anderson's meticulous direction and elaborate attention to period details are so exacting that some critics have dismissively described "Moonrise Kingdom" as a "dollhouse" movie. The opening scene of the Bishop home, which indeed looks like a dollhouse, could be seen as supporting such a judgment.
But such a description betrays a lack of appreciation for the subtlety and depth of Anderson's comedy — an oversight that has sometimes been used to belittle the talents of Anderson's longtime collaborator, Murray. In "Moonrise," Murray's character is so hapless after discovering his wife's affair that he grabs a bottle of whiskey and an ax and tells his kids that he's going outside to find a tree to chop down.
It's a funny-sad moment, just like most of the movie. Still, Anderson includes a healthy dose of optimism. This time, he focuses on the hope of young love — and the possibility that it might inspire the adults, too.
Anderson's devoted fans will not be disappointed with "Moonrise." The Houston native and University of Texas graduate beautifully blends humor and pathos to create what's bound to be one of the best movies of the year.
Contact Charles Ealy at 445-3931.