I've never seen quite as unique a film directing style as that from director Wes Anderson. While Anderson hasn't made much family friendly work in his career, with the closest being Fantastic Mr. Fox, he has made cult classics over the years like Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic and Rushmore. His most recent effort, Moonrise Kingdom, is as quirky as ever, also serving as the director's very first PG-13 rated film (all of his other works have been rated R or the PG-rated Mr. Fox). The end result is a mature look at young love and what classifies as love in our adulthood.
Anderson's style of filmmaking is about as much of an "acquired taste" as one can find in a director. His films have a distinct altered reality to them, with a lot of shots being centered and symmetrical, some awkwardly timed and placed close-ups, and an unusual way of panning from room to room in a cross-section fashion of a house or building (or submarine, as seen in Life Aquatic). The downside to his cinematic flavor is it can feel too fabricated or scripted at times. Sometimes the actors look too much like they're trying to act in a scene but within Anderson's stylistic framework. Usually the more skilled actors can overcome this and work within that space, but when it looks so much like the actor in a scene is very self-aware or self-conscious in deliberately acting in a choreographed manner for Anderson's style, it can further lift the viewer out of Anderson's world. It's something that is overcome by multiple viewings of Anderson's works, but undoubtedly the common movie watcher will not be so easily enticed by Anderson's cinematic ventures.
As usual, Moonrise Kingdom assembles an impressive cast for Wes Anderson's world. The story revolves around a young boy, Sam, who is a bit of an outcast in his boy scout troop who decides to run away with a girl, Suzy, who is known for being troubled and a handful. When the two go missing, with a nasty hurricane approaching their town, a search is launched to find the missing twelve-year-olds. The two are also a bit oddball and quirky in their own way (which fits with Anderson's style), but the love for each other is rather sweet and familiar. While I can't say I myself experienced such love at the age of twelve, I remember what it feels like to be completely smitten with a girl at the age of fourteen. Sam and Suzy's love is strange but sweet, awkward but cute, and although it gets a little raw at times, the two seem eager to commit themselves to one another, and that's what keeps their relationship endearing.
The peripheral characters in the film involve Scout Master Randy Ward, wonderfully played with bewilderment by Edward Norton; a weary police officer named Captian Sharp by Bruce Willis; and Suzy's father Walt Bishop, played by Bill Murray, who's starting to suspect the affair between his wife Laura (played by Frances McDormand) and Sharp. Norton and Willis stand out from these characters for having a bit more to do than Murray or McDormand, and they're also more interesting. Murray, sadly, doesn't have much to do other than playing Walt as disconnected and frustrated by the situations around him. It's a joy seeing Norton play the likeable and slightly incompetent Scout Master Ward, while Willis' tired cop may not seem like a stretch for him, he actually redeems himself by the film's end.
Whenever I've watched Anderson's work -- whether it's been one of his previous films in an edited form or Fantastic Mr. Fox -- I've found it tough to warm up to it right away. There's a lot to digest the first time you watch his movies, especially since sometimes it's hard to tell where he's going with the story. His brand of humor is also particularly left-of-center, so some jokes may not be apparently funny the first time. Usually by film's end, you can finally see what it is Anderson was shooting for, which makes repeat viewings best for digesting the filmmaker's intent. I wasn't sure what to expect from Moonrise Kingdom, but this film is right in line with all of the director's other work. There's seemingly random violence, some sexual content, heavier dramatic elements, and some profanity (but not as much as his R-rated films). The young love element for Moonrise Kingdom will probably make it more appealing to a wider audience, although that premise may not be strong enough to counteract the film's quirkiness. While I wouldn't recommend the movie for that age group, the story should spark some sentimental feelings in those who may be able to relate to it, while the Walt/Laura/Sharp love triangle story brings to light the trickier elements of adult romance and causes the characters to reevaluate their actions and behavior once the children go missing. It all leads up to a climax that involves a hurricane that really did hit their area in 1965 (a time in which this film is based), and it all wraps up with a satisfying conclusion.
The content for Moonrise Kingdom is undoubtedly PG-13. The opening scene that sweeps through the Bishop household gives a brief glance at a topless Frances McDormand as she's bending over a washtub while rinsing her hair out. It's brief and almost unnoticeable due to the color tone of the film and the position of Laura Bishop in the scene, but it's definitely there. The romance between Sam and Suzy gets a bit blunt as the two explore the sexuality of their relationship after they run away. They kiss and then attempt a French kiss and then Suzy invites Sam to touch her chest, which is clothed in only a thin bra. She also makes mention to him about his getting aroused as they hug each other. It's all purposefully awkward and it's certainly tangible. The two do share a tent together as well, but there is some verbal acknowledgment to the fact that the two haven't gone all the way, so to speak. Still, it's also awkward to see pre-teens exploring their sexuality at such a young and immature age, but there's an innocence to the way they view love in a childlike manner that reminds us older viewers what has been lost over time with age and responsibility. The contrast between the seemingly loveless marriage of Walt and Laura with the budding commitment of Suzy and Sam is thought-provoking.
Moonrise Kingdom is probably the strangest romantic comedy you'd see this year, but Anderson's unique indie approach is intriguing and helps make this film a fun one to watch. Still, his style is not for the casual moviegoer, but diehard fans of any of the cast or Anderson's previous work will probably love what he's done here with Moonrise Kingdom. It may not be his best work, or even the most accessible, but it does bring to mind that innocence and wonder once felt when we first fell in love.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/14/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Moonrise Kingdom is available in a nice Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet combo pack or separately as just a DVD (and from the usual digital retailers). The high definition transfer looks great, and with Anderson's unique way of coloring his films, the movie is vibrant in HD. Along with the feature film are just a couple, skimpy extras that are really just a couple promos strung together as bonus features. It's unfortunate that nothing special was created just for the home video release.
A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom (3:07) - This is a super brief featurette about the movie where the chief cast comment on the film and working with Anderson, as well as some brief on-set footage.
Welcome to the Island of New Penzance (6:11) - This featurette is a collection of four promos for the film hosted by actor Bob Balaban. It's split up in four parts: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Wes Anderson, with Bob introducing each person, showing behind-the-scenes footage, film scenes, and talking about each actor (or the director) individually. It's only 6 minutes long for the total of all four people.
Set Tour With Bill Murray (3:09) - Bill Murray gives a sort-of set tour of the Bishop house, but ultimately it's just a silly, somewhat mock-tour as Bill jokes around and talks about working with the cast.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/13/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: As the camera passes from room to room, we briefly see a topless Laura Bishop, from the side, as she hangs over a sink washing her hair with just a towel around her waist; We briefly see a watercolor drawing of a nude woman getting out of a tub. It's not very realistic, but there is some detail; We find out that Laura Bishop is cheating on her husband with Captain Sharp; We see Suzy in a bikini top posing for one of Sam's drawings; We see Sam and Suzy in their underwear while dancing, and then they kiss. She asks if he can French kiss and he asks what that involves. She says "it's when the tongues touch" and they kiss again. She then says "it feels hard" and she adds that "it's ok, I like it" (meaning he's getting excited). She then says he can touch her chest and we see him place his hands on her bra top. After she says she thinks they'll grow bigger eventually, the scene ends; We see Walt shirtless with his pajama pants just below the waist; The scouts talk about Sam with Suzy saying they heard he got to "third base" and someone else said he "just felt her up."
Vulgarity/Language: 3 "g*dd*mn," 2 "S.O.B," 3 "h*ll," 1 "Holy Chr*st," 3 "d*mn," 1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "Dear G-d"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Walt with a bottle of alcohol; Sharp pours a little beer for Sam. They talk more and then he pours more for him and Sam; We see a glass of wine next to Randy a couple times.
Blood/Gore: We see Suzy with her hand wrapped in gauze with some blood stains on it. Sam asks what happened and she says she cut it on a mirror; We see a kid running through the woods screaming with blood on his hand. We then see Suzy holding a pair of scissors with blood on them; We see a dog lying dead with an arrow sticking out of it and blood on him and on the ground; We see a boy lying on his stomach alive with Randy holding a handkerchief on a bloody wound on the kid's clothed back; Sam pierces Suzy's ears and we see blood dripping down the side of her head.
Violence: We see some scout kids carrying axes and knives and spiked clubs while hunting for a missing fellow scout; We briefly see a small doghouse on fire; We see a broken window and a girl picking glass out of her mother's hair; We see Sam punch a kid and run away; Suzy pushes a desk and lunges at a girl; We see Suzy shouting at her family but we don't hear what she's saying; Sam comes across his fellow scouts who threaten him. One drives at him on a motorbike and we see an arrow and scissors flash on the screen. We then see the kids running away, one with a bloody hand and then the bike stuck up in a tree with Suzy holding bloody scissors. We then see a dead dog with an arrow in it. Right after that, we see a kid in the back of a station wagon with blood on his back; Sam pulls the arrow out of a dead dog; Walt throws a shoe at Randy and then the Bishops start fighting with Randy and Sharp; Sam asks Suzy if she has her ears pierced and then we hear her screaming while he's trying to pierce her ear. She then asks him to do the other one; The boy who was stabbed challenges Sam, so Sam runs after him, punches him repeatedly where he was hurt and runs away. He's pursued to a field and gets hit by lightning, sending him in the air and catching his shoes on fire; We see a dam bust and water rush toward the camp; Water collapses poles around a small tent/building and we see fireworks go off inside. Randy rushes inside and rescues a man inside; Sharp holds a large tree branch with nails sticking out of it while threatening someone; Lightning hits the church steeple and we see three people hanging off of it. We then see that they're all okay and we see the steeple on top of a car on the ground and other scenes of desolation after the storm.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.