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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

"Before viewing" talks introduce the film without spoilers. Watch it, then click on the "After viewing" talk for more. More»» by Randy Heffner

With Moonrise Kingdom’s quirky, crazy story and demeanor, director Wes Anderson delivers an emotionally rich and wry exploration of relationships. Even better, it’s a wonderful specimen showing how quirky can be an excellent angle from which a film might help us find out how life, and we ourselves, can be better.

Sam is 12-year old Khaki Scout and a bit of an odd duck. Blame it on his being an orphan in foster care if you want to, but he doesn’t particularly connect well with the other scouts. Suzy is also a 12-year old odd duck. Her family pretends to be normal enough, but she sees the dysfunction of her two lawyer-parents (think of the old Jackson Browne song, “Lawyers In Love” [on Amazon]). They all live on New Penzance Island, together with the island policeman. Sam and Suzy find each other and immediately hit it off. Having had too much of life with others, and planning by writing letters back and forth, they run off together — or at least they run as far as they can on an island. This sets off an island-wide search, in which quirky things happen, secrets are revealed, and for which we have the benefit of a quirky narrator. Running time: 94 min.

The idiom “tongue-in-cheek” very well fits the whole of Moonrise Kingdom. It is, however, a very intentional tongue in a very important cheek. Life is certainly a bit crazy, as the film portrays it, and it can lead us to crazy actions as we try to find something more than the pain and pettiness dished out by life and the people around us. The film asks: Do we unthinkingly take our posture toward life from those around us? Is it a worthy posture that we should adopt, or should we rebel from its self-centeredness and find a new posture? If we rebel, do we simply take on new ways of being self-centered? How might we recognize our own self-centeredness and step out of it toward real love and compassion and loyalty? Moonrise Kingdom and its Wes-Anderson-quirkiness is great fun even if we don’t think about such questions, and its even better when we let the questions penetrate our perception of the film. They infuse its characters and plot, giving the film great depth.

I keep talking of Wes Anderson his quirkiness. It is pervasive in the film, and it is marvelous. It is also a key part of why the film can sneak past the anti-sentimentalist tendencies of many critics and viewers while also embodying real sentiment and beautiful feelings. All of the performances, and particularly those of Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward playing the preteen protagonists, excellently capture the film’s ethos and its subtle depth. Anderson and cinemetographer Robert Yeoman capture and reinforce the film's quirkiness in understated fashion. They even, in some cases, employ to great effect filmcraft that I usually find weak such as, in a conversation, cutting from one speaker's face to the other as each says their lines. With Moonrise Kingdom, you want such quick and usually bland cutting because (1) its contribution to pacing emphasizes the film's odd beat and (2) a large portion of the film's attitude is captured in precise expressions and articulations of lines. Truly the filmcraft is outstanding.

Moonrise Kingdom is overwhelmingly worth the time for adults, although some may let the idea of 12-year olds running away together overshadow the fact that their running away is a very effective way to set an alternate perspective for the film's exploration. However, teens and young teens, left on their own with the film, and perhaps even with sound parental coaching, may take the wrong idea away from some of the content (see below). One further note: When you watch this film, you can't be stuck in a mode of "a film must show me a completely real and credible world." Mark Twain is credited with saying, "The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible." The insights Moonrise Kingdom offers are highly credible, and it is by entering a quirky world with a bit of fantasy that the film accessibly explores these insights.

The story centers on a romance between 12-year olds, who in a couple of instances go, shall we say, a bit farther in their romance than 12-year olds should — but they could have gone farther, and what they do is in keeping with the film's relational themes. Still, these parts are inappropriate for unguided teens. There is talk of an affair between a couple of the adults, and a vague and very brief bit of nudity involving a woman washing her hair. One scene includes an animal shot with an arrow and a boy stabbed with scissors. These have blood, but the impact is a bit lightened by the film's attitude and pacing. Mild profanity throughout; some smoking.

  • Director: Wes Anderson
  • Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
  • Leads: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban
  • Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
  • Music: Alexandre Desplat

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"After viewing" talks assume that you have seen the film. They will contain spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Seeing Moonrise Kingdom, I long for the simple, true, mature love that gets lost amidst the dysfunction in our own lives and in the world around us. But even before we get to that, the film is simply fun from open to close, and just

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Screenshots and dialog copyright © 2012 by the filmmakers.

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