Movie Blog: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Is A Citadel Of Childhood

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(credit: CBS) Jonathon Sharp
Jonathon Sharp is a web producer and blogger at WCCO.COM. He started...
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Moonrise Kingdom is playing at the Lagoon Theater.

A sense of humor and a childhood is all you might need to enjoy Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom — a work as bad-ass and tender as an expertly crafted, delicious-in-the-details grilled cheese sandwich.

Tune into the movie’s mood: Summer, 1965. An island, New England. Boy scouts. Classical music. A coming storm. These elements make up the background over which Anderson’s terse-tongued characters meet, fight, reason, canoe and kiss.

Our hero is Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a 12-year-old boy scout (rank: field mate). He’s got no friends among his fellow scouts, led by the hardworking and luckless Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). And, to make matters worse, Sam’s foster parents, despite recognizing his good heart, released him to the wild after he set fire to some furniture while sleepwalking. Alone but not without bravery, Sam cuts a hole in his tent one night and leaves his troop, fleeing on the speed of a toy canoe. Why? Because Sam is in love. With who? Suzy Bishop, the girl who played a crow in the church’s performance of Noah’s Arch.

Sam and Suzy (Kara Hayward) plan out, through a web of letters, a rendezvous. They meet in a field. She has her suitcases filled with books, adorned with cute, goofy hand-painted fantasy creatures, and he has his pride: his camping tools, an arsenal for survival.

The two set off to live in the wilderness, alone, in love. But their absence from home and camp is quickly noted by the not-too-grown-up adults.

Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, respectively) fall into a minor panic as they seek out their troubled daughter. The two are both lawyers, and the game of their back-and-forth legal banter is both sharp and hilarious. In their search for Suzy, they call Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the island law enforcement.

Cpt. Sharp is an admittedly simple man, but he’s been having an affair with Mrs. Bishop. This affair reveals itself to Mr. Bishop as the search for Suzy and Sam continues. Scout Master Ward, who had been searching for Sam with all his Scout Master might, gathers up a search party with the help of Cpt. Sharp. However, the party is composed of Sam’s worst enemies — those scouts who didn’t forget to bring their weapons.

Dodging the arrows and motorbikes of their captors, Suzy and Sam retreat to a cove where their romance crystallizes in a scene so delightfully uncomfortable that one laughs, while watching it, for a feeling of awkwardness that could easily be mistaken for joy.

And that feeling — captured somehow in the details of movie’s book covers, paintings, music and maps — is what makes Moonrise Kingdom special among films of recent memory. Anderson has made, in my opinion, a movie to mark this summer. Forget The Avengers. That was fun. But this is different, beyond.

Throughout the movie, Bob Balaban appears as something of a storm chaser/narrator. In short stand-up shots filled with lovely descriptions of topography, his character foreshadows the disaster of a coming storm. This gives no spoilers (I promise), but the lightning and rain and thunder change everything, including the island’s landscape. And that cove, where Sam and Suzy did things for the first time, is dissolved into memory.

In this way the movie is a coming-of-age tale tinged with a sepia of childhood nostalgia. It may sound somewhat old fashioned, but it’s more than that. The cast holds other fine actors, such as Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton, and Anderson’s sense of humor is right on, almost exquisite in terms of timing and deadpan quirkiness. I’ve seen no finer film this year.

And in these words I’ve only hinted at the movie’s story and style. The real life of Moonrise Kingdom is found in its details — the tiny jokes, the ornate props, the pocket-knife sharp dialog. Just bear witness. Put yourself in a position to enjoy a gem of American movie making.

Moonrise Kingdom is playing at the Lagoon Theater.

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