Posted June 25, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
Possesses a precious wit and a humanistic spirit, it’s the perfect gateway to art-house cinema and independent films.
Moonrise Kingdom is the near-perfect gateway for newcomers to art-house cinema and indie filmmaking. It possesses that personal, artistic stamp missing in so many Hollywood studio films, and does so in a humanistic spirit that makes it welcoming.
Twelve-year-old Sam (Jared Gilman) sees Suzy (Kara Hayward) for the first time at a school play, and is instantly smitten. He follows her backstage to the dressing room. She takes a liking to the spectacled lad, and the two start writing letters to one another, relating their lives and troubles.
It’s not long before they plan a ten day camping trip together, keeping their adventure a secret from their families—her parents and his foster family. Sam steals away from scout camp, and meets up with Suzy at her dollhouse-like beach home. Their disappearance is quickly discovered, and the two must make their way on their own through the forest to a secluded cove, all the while evading their pursuers.
This is where the comedy begins. Sam and Suzy are pursued by the “Khaki Scouts” and their leader, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), a man who writes up his youngsters on even the smallest infraction. A military snare drum beats in marching time whenever they’re on screen, in mock seriousness. Brechtian line readings are done in a formal tone, as if reading official announcements rather than talking about something they deeply care about. The disparity between their dutiful observance of concern, and the genuine panic they would feel if a child were really missing is where the humor lies.
The camera moves linearly, tracking parallel to the characters, as they walk in straight lines and stand directly facing one another. This is a world of order, procedure and protocol—a word used often in the film. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) does things by-the-book in trying to find the missing kids. Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are both lawyers—they talk about their motions to the court and their cases while they’re in bed as a way of avoiding talking about their feelings. Sam’s fate as a runaway is in the hands of a woman known simply as Social Services (Tilda Swanson), who’s treats him like a case number rather than having genuine interest in his well-being.
And into this world these two kids throw a monkey wrench. Sam and Suzy are on the fringe; disruptive as members of their world, more so when they break free. In each other they seek love and friendship, living out an adventure from one of Suzy’s fantasy books. On that note, Moonrise Kingdom has a stage play look, often keeping characters at a distance, as if we’re in the back row of a theater looking at upstage actors. The presence of a narrator reminds us that a story is being told here, and that this is fiction—a fantasy, like one of Suzy’s books.
As a fantasy, Moonrise Kingdom is warm and enchanting. It deals earnestly—but modestly—with that time in our lives when we discover the yearning for another’s affection that takes hold of us as we begin to leave childhood behind, and take our first steps towards leading our own lives. The film has an ever-present, precocious wit that had me smiling early on, and left me that way long after the credits rolled. It suggests that good things can come from disruption—nature itself participates in throwing this world into chaos—but it’s all for the best. The film, set it 1965, is relevant to today, reminding us that in our increasingly impersonal world, real purpose and happiness lies in finding meaningful connections with each other.