Moonrise Kingdom

Jared Gilman demonstrates mad scout skillsPhoto: Focus Features
5 StarsWhy I Saw It:  It’s Norton, so it’s the law.
What I Thought: I think this film may well be perfect…

Moonrise Kingdom. Dir. Wes Anderson. Perf. Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel. Focus Features, 2012.

Two preteens in love run away together, prompting a full-scale community search of their New England island.

Oh my goodness where to start. Witty, playful, clever, soulful, and carrying a distant yearning heartache so familiar while offering the succor we crave, Moonrise Kingdom may well be Wes Anderson’s finest to date, perhaps even bumping my beloved The Darjeeling Limited off the Anderson Pedestal.

It wasn’t expected of course, but though Edward Norton doesn’t hit a Qualifying Role this time, he is indeed in fine form as per usual. It’s a ratcheted-down variation on Sheldon Mopes (Death to Smoochy), and as the earnest Scout Master Ward he brings forward a certain affectionate geek factor without ever eliciting disrespect. Based on dialogue alone, an actor (and director) could easily have tinged the role with caricature, but Norton and Anderson bring the fanboy forward just enough to make one smile while honoring both Ward and anyone who resonates with him.

The rest of the casting delights as well, of course, across the board ~ first with spot-on newcomers Gilman and Hayward as our paramours Sam and Suzy, with Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s world-weary parents, Bob Balaban as weather-historian-slash-narrator, Bruce Willis as the reluctant law enforcer, and Tilda Swinton, who shall remain nameless (no, seriously ~ that is hilarious). Harvey Keitel and the requisite Jason Schwarzman chime in beautifully as scout masters before we’re through (Schwartzman here really reminding me of someone, but can’t pin down who it is… will bubble up…).

In a recent Fresh Air NPR interview, Anderson discussed his choice to cast Willis as including the hope that Willis’ hard-hitting performances elsewhere would naturally seep in and inform Captain Sharp, and so they definitely do. (Excellent interview, by the way, click here to listen ~ includes discussion of how he fashioned Sam and Suzy’s characters, his choice to incorporate Benjamin Britten’s work and counterpoint it to Alexandre Desplat’s superb score. NOTE: See the film first, while rich and wonderful, it’s rife with spoilers.)

The shots alone are simply marvelous and worth the price of admission, from the scouts descending a hill during the search to confirmation that yes, Suzy will indeed be joining a certain expedition, to Suzy’s dad’s charge toward wringing Sam’s neck ~ to name three. Past that, script (Anderson’s, with co-writer Roman Coppola), soundtrack and aforementioned score, cinematography, art direction, costume design, all fire on every possible cylinder, and the number of moving parts involved from a production standpoint is impressive.

The characters are simultaneously kind, angst-ridden, discouraged, hopeful, and ever-practical (“It’s not a great life, but it’s better than shock therapy”), and Anderson creates an entire wondrous world of his fictional island. Life pursuits, as so many discover, are both meaningful and hollow, and the acknowledgement that relationship matters most is granted sans schmaltz or unreasonable expectation.

To describe why one should see Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom would be like describing why one should listen to Mozart. To explain is to waste words and time; simply go experience the man’s mind and heart, and be charmed, edified, uplifted.

Commendable.

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