Sunday 14 August 2016

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

An artistic coming-of-age story, Moonrise Kingdom takes a quirky look at young love between two troubled adolescents. The film is a visual delight, and the story includes layers of sharp social commentary.

It's 1965, on a fictional island in New England. Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) leads a troop of 12 year olds at a summer camp. One morning, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), an orphan and the least popular member of the scout team, goes missing, leaving a polite note behind. Police Captain Duffy Sharp (Bruce Willis) starts a search, and soon discovers that Suzy Bishop, the troubled daughter of Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), is also missing. A year earlier Sam and Suzy met and bonded during a school play performance, and eventually they planned an escape adventure.

Once they learn of the escape, Sam's foster parents immediately disavow him and announce that he is not welcome back at their house. Meanwhile, out in the wilderness Sam uses his scouting skills as he and Suzy hike to a secluded cove, where they set up camp and tentatively start to get intimate. The search intensifies with Ward, his scouts, Sharp and the Bishops frantically trying to find the children, with matters complicated by a relationship between Laura Bishop and the police captain. A representative of Social Services (Tilda Swinton) flies in to help. Sam and Suzy enjoy a few moments of idyllic isolation, but there are surprises and complications ahead, including a mammoth storm.

Directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom is a fresh take on young and emerging love. With exquisite use of staging, colour and symmetry, Anderson creates a fictional yet potentially real world where the setting is as important as the characters, and the almost magical surroundings contribute to the sense that all is indeed possible. The film thrives on a sense of whimsy as seen through a storytelling lens, and builds to a frantic, blustery finale.

The central characters of Sam and Suzy share the experience of troubled households and loneliness bordering on depression. While keeping the film light, Anderson does not shy away from hinting at the violent tendencies that troubled children are capable of: both Sam and Suzy can and do take care of themselves when needed.

But more sharply, Moonrise Kingdom is about adults contributing to the trauma of children needing something different. Suzy's parents come off worst, seemingly wholly incapable of connecting with their daughter. Meanwhile Sam is suffering through the bullying and ostracizing that comes with being an orphan, and exhibits both the anger and resourcefulness needed to survive in a hostile world. Suzy is so miserable she confides in Sam that she wishes she was an orphan. Pointedly, he responds that he loves her but she doesn't know what she is talking about.

Placing sensual affection at the emotional centre of an idyllically framed, fairytale-like story is mildly startling and adds to the film's uniqueness. The scenes of budding intimacy between the two 12 years old are handled with sensitivity but also honesty, Anderson confronting the reality that two troubled kids are likely to start a journey of sexual exploration sooner than most.

The performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are touching, and they confront the material with admirable sincerity. They also benefit from a script that allows their characters to be children while yearning to break free of their childhood traumas. For her great escape adventure, Suzy takes along her cat, mounds of cat food, a battery-operated record player, vinyl records and three heavy hardcover books: not exactly items to facilitate a fleet-footed getaway, but fully consistent with what a child would think of.

The adults stick to their assigned supporting roles, with each of Willis, Murray, McDormand and Norton getting limited screen time but also key moments to advance the plot and sketch in Suzy and Sam's background stories.

Poignant and charming, Moonrise Kingdom beams an elegant light over the universal yet intensely personal adventure of childhood graduation.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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