Wes Anderson’s films typically offer consistent elements: whimsical, desaturated visuals that look like they were designed by a 10-year-old with a set of pastel chalks, themes of death and redemption, Hollywood A-listers dolled up to look as awkward as possible and a mid-1960s Rolling Stones tune for the soundtrack.
“Moonrise Kingdom” features all of the above (save the Stones tune), so Anderson fans are in luck. But if you’ve never seen one of his films, you’re liable to experience anything from pleasant surprise to confusion to offense.
The film tells the story of two 12-year-olds in the summer of 1965: Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphan who is alienated from his scout troop; Suzy (Kara Hayward), a local girl alienated from her lawyer parents. They meet, they become pen pals, they decide to run away together.
In pursuit are Suzy’s parents (Francis McDormand and longtime Anderson collaborator Bill Murray), the local police captain (Bruce Willis) and Sam’s despondent scoutmaster (Edward Norton). Each is well-intentioned but flawed, wrestling with the demons of their adulthood as the children they’re pursuing wrestle with their desire to be adults.
The items the children take on their journey speak volumes. Sam is trying to break free from a world of conformity. He clings to tokens of an identity that died with his parents — a wedding photograph and a broach from his mother, which stick out among the numerous medals and patches on his scout uniform. Suzy is trying to break free from a family trying to diagnose her impulse to lash out at her cold surroundings (even at home, her parents address each other as “counselor”). She carries a pair of left-handed scissors and a book she stole from her parents on dealing with troubled children. One child is trying to replace his parents. The other is trying to escape hers.
Like “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” two of Anderson’s previous outings, “Moonrise Kingdom” communicates a sense of sweetness in spite of a quirky visual style and intentionally stiff acting. Sometimes the film looks as if it were lifted directly from the stage, with choreographed blocking and marks for the actors to hit. Elsewhere the camera passes from action to action as if the audience was watching a storybook. The sum effect is a charming, tender film that uses simplicity to grasp at pure human emotion, where the wisdom comes from the children as often as it comes from the adults.
But while “Moonrise Kingdom” is a film about children, it is not a film for children. It is the first of Anderson’s live-action films to draw a PG-13 rating instead of an R, but “Moonrise Kingdom’s” heavy themes and sexual awakening-inspired content are intended for a mature audience. Audiences seeking a family-friendly way to enjoy Anderson’s unique style should try his animated effort “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” instead.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is rated PG-13 for adult language (including several references to deity), some violence (mostly implied), and sexual content.
Teaching opportunities: This film encourages communication and expressions of love between parents and children, and responsibility in adults.
Extreme violence: While most of the violence happens offscreen (aside from a child who gets hit by a lightning bolt), the audience sees some graphic evidence of various events: a young boy with an eye patch, another with a bloody bandage on his side, a bloody pair of scissors, a dead dog with an arrow sticking out of its neck.
Sexual content: A young girl spends an extended sequence in her underwear, she allows a boy to touch her chest (while still clothed) and they kiss several times. They have suggestive conversations. Two of the adult characters are having an extra-marital affair.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at www.woundedmosquito.com.