I have been putting off reviewing Moonrise Kingdom (2012). I love the movie, and when I walked away from the theater after watching it when it premiered, I felt like I had seen something special. Admittedly, this is partially due to Wes Anderson’s directorial style. Even though I claim not to be his biggest fan in my review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), you definitely know it when you are seeing a Wes Anderson movie. Of course, this is not unique to him, and sometimes I find his work to be trite, but these two seem to fit better to my tastes. As we shall see, though, there is an aspect of it that keeps it from being one of my all-time favorites.
Moonrise Kingdom is about young love. Our two adolescents are Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). It starts with them running away to meet up with each other: Sam going on the lam from the nearby Khaki Scout summer camp, and Suzy from her parents’ seaside home. When they first come face-to-face, the film goes into how two kids decided to take such drastic measures to be with each other. A year previous, Sam’s scout troop had seen Suzy’s class perform a production about the flood and Noah’s Ark. It was while wandering back stage that they make their initial encounter, and something in the look they exchange convinces them to become pen-pals. Sometimes, that is all it takes, you know? In the back-and-forth letters, we learn that Sam is an orphan and having a difficult time with various foster situations, and Suzy has a tempestuous relationship with her lawyer parents, Mr. (Bill Murray) and Mrs. (Frances McDormand) Bishop. This leads to them making the decision to escape their problems together. Being pre-teens, they have no real plan other than being in each other’s company. Sam uses his Khaki Scout skills to help them as they move through the New England island on which this all takes place. Of course, those responsible for them do not simply let them leave. Sam’s Khaki Scout leader, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), organizes the rest of his troop into a search party. Also helping is a potential rival for Mrs. Bishop’s affections, the island’s sole police officer, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). With their combined efforts, they are able to eventually find Sam and Suzy at an inlet on the other side of the island. Suzy is taken back to her parents, while Captain Sharp takes guardianship of Sam until Social Services (Tilda Swinton) can arrive to put Sam back into the penal-like foster system. In seeing Sam’s determination to be with Suzy, though, some of his scout mates have a change of heart about Sam, who they previously viewed as abnormal. They hatch a plot to spring both Sam and Suzy, which also hilariously involves a faux wedding at another scout camp and Sam getting a job on a fishing boat to support their new “family.” These climactic scenes take place as a hurricane begins brewing off the coast, and in the middle of it the Bishops, Captain Sharp, and Social Services track Sam and Suzy to the church where they first met. Wishing only to get away, Captain Sharp makes a deal with Social Services to take care of Sam, which he agrees to instead leaping with Suzy off the church roof. Sam seems to become a kind of assistant to Captain Sharp, which also allows him to see Suzy whenever he gets a chance.
The charm of Moonrise Kingdom is also what makes it a little difficult to watch at moments, and that is Sam and Suzy basically acting like adults. Some of it is funny, some of it . . . not so much. They are treated as such throughout the movie, and there are specific scenes with which I take issue. When they arrive at their inlet during their first escape attempt, they are shown (in their underwear, but thankfully nothing less) dancing on the beach, briefly kissing, touching each other’s private areas, and talking about the experience in rather uncomfortable ways. A little later when they are finally found, Mr. Bishop lifts up their tent to find them laying side-by-side. Never mind the Catholic Church’s stance on premarital sex, this rides the line as to what it implies might have happened as they spent the night on that beach. I am not sure why this was needed, at all. Many of us have our first kiss around their age, and it is innocent enough. The more cynical among would say that Sam might have been thinking about other things, but I prefer not to go down that rabbit hole. Instead of suggestion, Anderson could have stayed with the whimsy that typifies the rest of the film.
So, how can I enjoy Moonrise Kingdom when it has so objectionable a scene. Because, while Sam and Suzy are just kids, their love seems genuine. Faith says much about how love is simple, and Jesus tells His disciples to model children in acting out that love. Granted, I wish Sam and Suzy could have controlled themselves a little more, but I appreciate their dedication to each other. Though kind of related to the part I could do without, he warns her that he might wet the bed later, to which she reacts acceptingly. He is willing to lead away the camp members that come after them after they get married so that she and their friends can get away. In other words, they practice a sacrificial love for one another that is born of their affection, not their desires to do the kinds of things about which Hollywood typically tells us lovers want to do.
Yes, Moonrise Kingdom is a flawed movie. But I would take it, with a little bit of judicious fast forwarding, over so many other movies today. It transports you to another world, makes that world real, and the camera work forces you to be an active participant in it. And it never gets too serious. Yet, it is a deep film, and it will tug at your heart strings, or at least your sentiment. Because of all this, it gets a cautionary recommendation.