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Bring the s’mores — We’re going camping at MOONRISE KINGDOM!

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It is HOT (see photo right) in Atlanta. Like Neil Simon movie-quotes hot.

But if you’re going to spend a cool few hours out of the heat (up to 106 F / 41C) then the latest by Wes Anderson, MOONRISE KINGDOM, is one of the best ways you can do it. This film is filled with so much twee-charm that I’m surprised they can fit it all on the screen and it was worth the wait.

Anderson likes to look at people from afar…to dissect their lives…to look at their houses and their things from a distance. It seems that on first viewings of his films that he (and the characters in them) are disconnected from the people they love and are emotionally repressed. However, watch them again and you can see the subtle works going on behind the eyes of every person on-screen.

MOONRISE KINGDOM follows a somewhat outcast junior Khaki Scout named Sam Shakusky and a possibly troubled girl named Suzy Bishop as they go on the lam from the scouts and her family; traveling across a small wooded island off (presumably) the coast of Maine. There are also the usual sidekick characters, such as Suzy’s parents played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand. Bruce Willis makes one of his now-patented understated performances as the local town police officer, Captain Sharp, who conspires to cuckold Murray. Bob Balaban makes a guest appearance in as the Narrator and Edward Norton does a turn as the efficient and neurotic Khaki Scout leader, Randy Ward.

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are doing most of the work in the film and are as up to the tasks as a young Owen Wilson or Jason Schwartzman were in Anderson’s earlier films; though I am glad his use of female characters seems a bit more realistic this time around. I can totally picture Bottle Rocket’s Dignan at Camp Ivanhoe and being one of the Khaki Scouts who ostracized Sam while being secretly in awe of him.

I think was Anderson really wanted to have adventures as a child and never did. I don’t know him personally but I can’t help thinking this. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it seems all of his male protagonists are just one sliver of who he is (or really wanted to be) as a child. Although with most children (certainly the ones I know) emotions are readily at the surface. Wes Anderson’s films don’t portray that, they portray the thinking being underneath all the emotion.

The look and feel of this film is perfect. From the set design to the costumes like Suzy’s “Sunday School shoes” to Sam’s coonskin cap. It’s so charming but it’s a little… I don’t know — I think it’s because we’ve been charmed like this before.

We saw Rushmore. We’ve seen The Royal Tenenbaums and especially The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The part of me that has slightly grown cynical about some films was worried that I wasn’t going to get drawn into this. I don’t know why I bothered to worry — I was in it from the beginning. The technical aspects of the film pretty much guaranteed that; even if I didn’t feel for Sam’s crooked-glasses view of the world…or Suzy’s wish to have adventures like in her novels stolen from the library — where the girl is the hero and lives on a planet far different from the small island she’s stuck on with parents who don’t make effort to understand her or to fix their failing marriage.

“Emotionally troubled” is the key phrase used to describe these two kids by the adults in their lives (including Sam’s foster parents, who are just in it for the money) and in the world of 1965 that Moonrise Kingdom is set in, carries the weird outsider/stranger connotations that make people nervous and skittish around Suzy and Sam.

Bruce Willis’ Sharp is a man alone; and he’s missing that piece of something that makes him as fragile and incomplete as everyone else in this film, underneath his shined shoes and perfect tie. All the adolescent awkwardness that you thought you’d gotten over in your own life was on full display not only in the child characters of the film but in all the adults. There was something missing, or childish or childlike about each of them. Edward Norton’s scoutmaster Ward is nervous and invests his whole self-image into being a Scout Master. Bill Murray’s Walt Bishop (no relation to FRINGE’s Walter Bishop, thankfully) seems disconnected from all of his children and takes it out with alcohol and careful denial about the state of his marriage. McDormand’s Laura conducts a clandestine affair on Penzance Island; an area only 16 miles long.

I think the emotional distance that is on display in Wes Anderson’s films would, in the hands of lesser actors and a lesser director, make them laughable B-movie disasters. But his casting choices are always inspired. I even liked Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal in the Royal Tenenbaums. There, I said it. That’s why his casting is always so spot-on… the actors are producing really great restrained understated performances from his direction. Look at Adrian Brody in The Darjeeling Limited. That guy pretty much only acted with his eyeballs and eyebrows.

And newcomer Jared Gilmore fares well having Anderson’s patented restraint encouraged by the script and directing but he is actually a kid underneath all of this dialogue. He’s a little unliked, is a lot misunderstood and terribly lonely. He’s is kind of smart (mostly in theory but not in practice) and he’s very believable as the boy who finds true love in the unlikeliest of places, with Suzy Bishop.

She’s the daughter of two attorneys (Murray and McDormand) who pretty much at this point don’t have much of a marriage and are not only in it for the children but eventually decide that it is no longer enough either. Watching their separate resignations to the choices they made in life and what it may have cost them is actually sad to watch. It’s one of the sadder moments in the film.
Seeing an unexpectedly walrus-like Harvey Keitel is always a joy on-screen and never more so when his knobby knees are showing in his Khaki Scoutmaster uniform, awaiting rescue from Scout Master Ward (Norton) from the rising waters of the great storm approaching Penzance while Tilda Swinton has a small role as Social Services, (no other name given) and is channeling Katherine Hepburn all the way. It’s almost like she channels Cate Blanchet in The Aviator channeling Katherine Hepburn. She’s tall, well put-together and staying emotionally reserved — it’s everything you could want in a Wes Anderson character.

In an unsubtle look at the storms love can bring to your life, Suzy and Sam try to outrun an epic (like really epic — the music playing is from Noye’s Fludd by Benjamin Britten) rainstorm whilst the score from Andre Desplat swirls around them, flooding Penzance Island with biblical notes about gathering those you love around you in the bad times. According to the liner notes (remember those?) the Fludd music was written in 1957 for church choirs to perform and was specifically geared toward amateurs. As with many aspects of Anderson’s films, sometimes the amateurs have more going on for them then you’re initially led to believe.

The score is something that has grown on me, with many classical pieces (parts of the Noye’s Fludd pieces as well as Leonard Bernstein) mixed among some Hank Williams and when I pre-ordered the soundtrack at my excellent local store, CRIMINAL RECORDS (also, possibly the best name for a record store, ever) it came with a Khaki Scouts canteen and two Khaki Scout patches.

Take that, you mp3-swilling websites!

what you can’t get online

You can’t get that kind of thing from a few clicks of a mouse and it is perfect for a Wes Anderson film – where there is so much reliance on the real, the touchable… the details of a life in front of you.

If it’s possible to fall in love with a 12-year-old, an era, a design and an esthetic, than I am in love with Moonrise Kingdom.

I can’t wait for Jared and Kara to grow up and do many more films in the Wonderful World of Anderson.

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H. Blain is a semi-professional smarty pants, though generally kind as a rule, Personnel Director for the made-up company ILMARI Industries and writes for Live For Films and anyone else who will have her. She loves FANTASTIC FEST and the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE. Find her on the tweety @MediaTsarina

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