Judging a Wes Anderson movie after a single viewing is no easy task. First of all, Anderson fills his movies with visual and dramatic subtleties. This means after the third or fourth viewing (if you, like many Wes fans, can put up with 372 minutes of Rushmore), his films form an entirely new image in the audience’s mind. As a Moonrise Kingdom virgin, then, I was apprehensive about judging the film upon my first sight of the closing credits. That said, my mind eventually settled on a fact that I will not find myself disputing on my fifth Moonrise screening: it was weird, but weird in a good way. Am I making any sense? No? Let me explain.
The hero of Moonrise Kingdom is Sam, a precocious orphan on the run from his “Khaki Scout” troop. Carrying nothing but his thick-framed glasses and a backpack full of camping equipment, this escapee sets out to meet his childhood sweetheart, Suzy, an ill-tempered loner who eagerly accepts Sam’s invitation to run away. As the pair evades the scoutmaster (Ed Norton) and local law enforcement (Bruce Willis), they pick up a few life lessons. Yes, that includes pondering about their nascent sexuality, and yes, it is as awkward as it sounds. To round off the cast, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play Suzy’s quarreling parents whose dwindling marriage serves as the bane of Suzy’s childhood.
Wes Anderson’s universe is all too familiar in Moonrise Kingdom. Suzy plays her favorite albums on a record player a la Margot Tenenbaum, Sam’s fine-tuned adventurous spirit is reminiscent of Max Fischer’s dedication to extracurricular activities, and Murray and McDormand play a perennially incompatible couple who, while standard fare in a Wes Anderson movie, seem somewhat out of place in Moonrise. Murray, in this case, was underused, detracting from the Suzy and Sam plotline in a most peculiar way—anyone looks uninteresting when put back to back with the transcendent melancholy of Bill Murray.
What saves this movie from becoming Rushmore with a new name is its delicate treatment of childhood. In their Bonnie and Clyde little world, Sam and Suzy have an ostensibly irrational passion to live together on their own beach, an inclination foreign to the adults’ decrepit love lives. When the young couple share an on-screen moment many would consider too intimate for the ages of the actors, Wes is simply trying to depict love in its most innocent, passionate, and perhaps irrational state.
Where Moonrise Kingdom falls short in laughter and witty dialogue, it exceeds in its nostalgic journey through the eyes of its love birds. Wes has already explored love interests in wash-ups such as Steve Zissou, but Moonrise Kingdom intimates that children may have the most to tell us about the kisses and tears woven into the human phenomenon that is love. And if that isn’t enough for your plate, you’ll still enjoy the inclusion of Ed Norton and Bill Murray. Oh, and if you see an old, fat bald guy walk into the movie theater with sunglasses and a trench coat, use whatever valuable skills you’ve learned from To Catch a Predator reruns. Or, since you’ll probably want to see the movie at that instant, move back a row and report the exhibitionist on your way out.
John Sapunor is a junior in the MSB. Out of Sight is a new Vox feature with movie reviews coming in weekly.