Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom featured image

Not another West Side Story—more like a quirky Rhode Island Story; yep, Romeo and Juliet, but not so tragic (or intense).

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson, director & co-script w/Roman Coppola

Starring: Jared Gilman (Sam Shakusky), Kara Hayward (Suzy Bishop), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Edward Norton (Scout Master Randy Ward), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce), Bob Balaban (Narrator)

The buzz
When a film opens the Cannes film festival, you’ve got to call it prestigious. But the response at Cannes seemed muted; some critics loved it but the opening-night audience appeared to be puzzled rather than energized by Wes Anderson’s tale of young love in the Sixties.


The genres
Not another West Side Story—more like a quirky Rhode Island Story; yep, Romeo and Juliet, but not so tragic (or intense).


The premise
When young Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky sees New Penzance Island resident Suzy Bishop dressed in a bird costume at a Benjamin Britten performance, it’s love at first sight. The next summer, after a flurry of letters, the two 12-year-olds run away together. In hot pursuit are Suzy’s alienated lawyer parents Walt and Laura; Laura’s secret lover and the island’s policeman Captain Sharp; Khaki Scout leader Randy Ward and his young troops; and a good number of the island’s residents.

The youngsters create their own romantic world, dancing to the songs of Francoise Hardy (the “yeh-yeh” girl from Paris), eating provisions from scout troop cooking recipes and reading girl’s adventure novels by candlelight. When captured, all they dream of is escape. Miraculously, they do get a second chance, aided by Sam’s Khaki troop-mates, who decide to aid the young lovers.

But can Suzy and Sam escape the clutches of adults again? And what will happen to them when the biggest storm of the century starts blowing over New Penzance Island?


The performances
Character actors abound in this production: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwarzman, even Harvey Keitel (where has he been lately?). They deliver their lines in the deliberately straight-faced laconic manner that Wes Anderson prefers. All are fine. Special kudos should go to Balaban, perfectly succinct as the narrator, and whoever dressed Tilda Swinton in her outrageously colourful “social service” costumes.

The film is utterly dependent on the performances of Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as New Penzance’s Romeo and Juliet. The good news is that you like them well enough; the sad news is that neither is completely enchanting.


The director 
Wes Anderson is an American auteur but like Tim Burton, he can disappoint his audience. This time, he succeeds. Is the film quirky, ironic, literary and sophisticated? Of course, yes, bien sur. And it works.


The skinny
For some, Anderson’s soufflés don’t rise; they’re pretentious confections that betray the wonderful ingredients in them. Not this time. Moonrise Kingdom is magical—and replete with wonderful Britten music. This is a film well worth seeing.

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