I imagine if you were to ask around, you’d discover that at some point in everybody’s life, they built their own Moonrise Kingdom. During those moments of unbridled optimism that are far too fleeting, many of us found a quiet spot in our schools, our neighbourhoods, or our cities that we felt allowed us to express ourselves fully. They were likely temporary, which is fitting given the emotions they were made to express, but they were ours dammit…and when we were there, we couldn’t be touched.
Sam and Suzy are young and in love.
Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a Khaki Scout away at camp. He is a member of Troop 55, led by Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), and while he is a good scout, he is the least liked member of the troop by far. This doesn’t matter much to Sam, as his entire summer has been spent planning his get-a-way from the camp on the island of New Penzance, and his rendez-vous with Suzy.
Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is the oldest of the four Bishop children. the daughter of unhappily married lawyers Laura and Walt (Frances MacDormand and Bill Murray), she is smitten with the moxy and passion young Sam has shown since the moment he first laid eyes on her. She fans the flames of his escape plan and takes off from her home on the island to meet him for a stolen moment of love and togetherness.
Of course, the grown-up’s aren’t exactly thrilled about this, especially since neither Sam nor Suzy were forthcoming with their plans. Scout Master Ward rounds up members of the troop to track them down. At the same time, Walt and Laura are worried sick about their missing daughter and are anxious to get her back. To do so, they reach out to Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to do what Ward seems incapable of. However, even his efforts feel somewhat futile.
With a storm threatening the island, and sam’s home life thrown for a loop thanks to this act of truancy, this stolen moment of young love has caused quite the disruption on New Penzance. However, one look at Sam and Suzy tells us all that they aren’t about to be stopped just because they have caused a disruption.
At the epicentre of all the kookiness and nostalgia of MOONRISE KINGDOM is a wonderful retelling of a particular moment in our collective adolescence: The moment when anything seems possible. It’s a moment that comes regardless of the fact that you have no money, are socially awkward, and wildly inexperienced. When this moment comes – and it usually comes when one falls in love – it feels as though the rest of the world has fallen away. No plan is too crazy, no move is too daring. I repeat: anything is possible.
That’s certainly where we find Sam and Suzy. They are defiant of every authoritative adult, striking out on their own, ready to go as far as the forest path will take them if it means they can walk it hand-in-hand. This is an especially wonderful moment for Sam. He has captured the heart of a pretty girl who is (let’s be honest) above his station, and has done so during a moment where he is being ostracized by his fellow Khaki Scouts. How can one blame him for believing that the impossible is possible? He’s just bucked the odds and caught the eye of a dreamgirl. For Sam, this fills him with confidence, which in turn makes him even more attractive to Suzy. It’s a self-fueling machine of adventure that can only work before the jaded world-view of adulthood starts to corrode it with cynicism.
In the cannon of Wes Andreson, MOONRISE KINGDOM feels like a purer form of RUSHMORE. We are again immersing ourselves in a tale of adolescent love, but this version comes with less adults at its core. It feels familiar, as all of Andesron’s films have so far, but at the same time it comes with a new ambition. The usual whimsical soundtrack is gone, and in its place a different type of whimsical soundtrack. The only actors from his usual wishlist present are Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, and both characters are well down the depth chart for this story. For me, the film feels something less than perfect – it lacked the emotional payoff that Anderson’s best film’s have had. It’s still glorious of course; it just stops at the cliff’s edge for some reason, when it seems like it wanted to jump off.
Regardless of its pulled punch, MOONRISE KINGDOM comes packaged with so much whimsy, that it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. From the expressive faces of the juvenile leads, to the effervescence of the film’s overall look, it’s clear that Anderson wanted to take us back to a time before we were capable of feeling defeated. He wanted us to remember those endless summers dotted by first kisses and first loves. To this end, he achieves his mission. He reminds us for 90 minutes about a time before mind-games and self-doubt…when all one had to do to win the day was reach down and hold the other person’s hand.
That is what allows the film to succeed; the way in which it brings together some well-lettered, A-list actors, and uses them in a way that they too seem to understand the importance of that moment between holding the hand and kissing the lips. Nobody in the film is winking, nobody breaks into a meta smirk. Like the stones around a campfire, they all circle around the juvenile actors at the centre of the film and act as supporting players in their tale of young love.
They all had their own Sams…they all had their own Suzys…and they know that everyone in the audience did too. They all want to tend to that flame of optimism, if only to bask in its warmth just one more time.