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Family Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13     Length: 94 minutes

Appropriate for ages 13+. What you might call the film’s “adult” themes are, in fact, among its most awkwardly childlike; still, they might be uncomfortable for some. Specifically, the preteen protagonists’ first steps into sexual awareness are depicted, as the two gaze at, embrace, and eventually clumsily touch one another over their oversized ’60s underwear. It sounds worse than it is, but it bears mentioning. Elsewhere, there is also a brief, sideways glimpse of an adult woman’s chest. A young boy smokes a pipe and takes a sip of beer. There is sparse profanity and some mild violence.

“Moonrise Kingdom” is more a tale about childhood than one for children. Its quirky, nostalgic tone will more likely appeal to adults with a longing for the good old days, real or imagined.

By Jared Peterson

“Moonrise Kingdom” is a comic drama of true love among the young and odd. Set in 1965 on the fictional island of New Penzance, the film’s protagonists, two troubled twelve-year-olds, struggle to make, or break from, their place in the world.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is smart, serious, and weird. An orphan passed about through the foster care system, he seems most at home within the strictures of his summer scouting camp—but even there he’s an oddity and object of ridicule. Sam is instantly taken with Suzy (Kara Hayward), a brooding, imaginative girl with a rebellious streak fueled by her parents’ discontent—her mother and father (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), both lawyers, bitterly spar with each other in domestic legalese, and Mom has been carrying on an affair with the island’s lone policeman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Sam puts his wilderness skills to the test when he and Suzy decide to run away together—as far they can run, to a remote part of the island, a kingdom apart. As a storm brews off the coast, the kids’ disappearance triggers a frantic, messy, often hilarious manhunt that mobilizes the concerned adults and draws their own problems and failings out in the open.

With “Moonrise Kingdom”, director Wes Anderson returns to themes he first explored in his sophomore effort, Rushmore. Both films focus on children clinging to the imaginative possibilities of youth. The precocious preteens are seen in contact and conflict with adults, many of whom have yet to fully put away childish things. Amplifying these themes is Anderson’s signature quirky visual style. His films take the tone and texture of inventive student theater productions, and he often shoots his subjects in all-encompassing wide shots that feel like they ought to be framed by a velvet curtain (and sometimes are). The screenplay, cowritten by Anderson and Roman Coppola, features long runs of dialogue that never veers far away from self-seriousness. The players—including Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Willis, McDormand, Murray, and the newcomers Gilpin and Hayward—get the deadpan delivery just right, rounding out what is a welcome return to form for Anderson.

“Moonrise Kingdom” is a dollhouse epic, a stormy stream of fantastical, immaculately staged tableaux that add up to more than the sum of their picture-perfect parts. The story pays homage to a shelf-full of middle-school classics, everything from Bridge to Terabithia to Lord of the Flies to Romeo and Juliet to dog-eared scouting handbooks. And it’s littered with artifacts of a bygone era: portable record players, overdue library books, plastic camping gear. One of the most affecting of these outdated elements is the fumbling sexual unawareness between the too-young, star-crossed lovers. The awkwardness—and cluelessness—of their first embraces and explorations harken back to a time before our media environment became saturated with sexual imagery and youth became something to preprocess or skip altogether.

Wes Anderson’s shadowbox creations have always possessed a geeky chic that’s rewarding on its own. It’s easy and understandable to be swept up by the style, but the style is the best way to access the substance.

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