Directed By: Wes Anderson
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis
Tag line: "A tormenting and surprising story of children and adults during the stormy days of the summer of 1965"
Trivia: After filming was completed, Kara Hayward got to keep the kitten owned in the film by her character Suzy
Though they were comedies, Wes Anderson’s earlier films centered on sad characters dealing with a variety of issues, including family discord (The Royal Tenenbaums), fading glory (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), and the death of a parent (The Darjeeling limited). These movies made us laugh, even if the characters within weren’t themselves in a laughing mood. Taking place in a world much like the ones created in those earlier films, and with a style that is also reminiscent of them, Anderson manages to inject a glimmer of hope in his 2012 effort Moonrise Kingdom thanks primarily to its focus on young love, following two characters every bit as wounded as some of his others, but who have found happiness in each other’s company.
The year is 1965, and all hell has broken loose on the normally peaceful island of New Penzance. Suzy (Kara Hayward), the 12-year-old daughter of attorneys Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), has run away from home. She is accompanied by Sam (Jared Gilman), a Khaki Scout whose troop is headquartered on the other side of the island. The Bishops, along with local policeman Captain Sharp (Brice Willis) and Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), organize a search party to track down the two. But what they don’t know is that Suzy and Sam are deeply in love, and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. As the hours wear on, Sam and Suzy continue to elude capture, and with a major storm on its way, the town’s adults have no alternative but to double their efforts. Will they find the star-crossed youngsters in time, or will true love win out in the end?
Moonrise Kingdom isn’t without its sad sacks; Suzy’s parents are successful attorneys, yet their marriage is on the brink of ruin. Mrs. Bishop is having an affair with Captain Sharp, the island’s lone policeman, who is an otherwise lonely man. Edward Norton’s Khaki Scout Master begins strong enough, but quickly loses confidence when Sam resigns from the troop and runs away (later on, the Scout Master will suffer an even greater loss, one that threatens his career with the Khaki scouts). All actors manage to convey the deep sorrow that plagues their characters, garnering our sympathy even as we’re giggling at their antics.
Yet it’s Sam and Suzy who are the saddest of them all. Suzy knows of her mother’s infidelity and at one point finds a pamphlet on top of the family refrigerator titled “Coping with the Very Troubled Child”, which her parents obtained in an effort to understand their daughter. As for Sam, he’s an orphan whose mom and dad died years earlier. What’s more, he’s managed to alienate himself from the Billingsleys, his foster parents, who decide not to invite him back home, forcing Social Services (Tilda Swinton) to get involved. Also, Sam’s fellow Khaki scouts are less than friendly towards him (when searching for Sam on the island, each one brings a weapon along).
Luckily, Suzy and Sam now have each other. After meeting the summer before at a school pageant, they began a year-long pen-pal correspondence, during which they fell in love and planned their escape. The authority figures will attempt to break them up, but to no avail. Suzy and Sam have found each other, and also the happiness that has avoided them in the other areas of their lives. They have no intention of letting that go. Both Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman do an outstanding job conveying the clumsiness, uncertainty, and magic of young love, and even as those around them do their best to keep the two apart, we know Sam and Suzy will likely be together forever.
The location plays an important role in the story (the movie was shot in Rhode Island), and as an isle is symbolic of its character’s feelings of isolation. Another successful aspect of Moonrise Kingdom is Bob Balaban, who acts as host and narrator, filling us in on matters outside the story (the history of New Penzance, the upcoming storm, etc). All of these elements, plus the amazing score by Alexandre Desplat, work together to create a “Wes Anderson world”, a place outside our own reality, but only just. And it’s Sam and Suzy who make it seem like a nice place to be.