I’ve long been of the belief that the three best movies Wes Anderson has ever made were his second, third and fourth: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which were released in 1998, 2001, and 2004. Coming in a strong fourth, though, is Moonrise Kingdom, which arrived in May of 2012, ten years ago this week.
It’s a movie sporting plenty of Anderson’s dollhouse aesthetic, and featuring some of his perennials, like Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman. But it was different than most Anderson films in that it was centered around a romance between two 12-year-olds.
Directed by Anderson and written by the director along with Roman Coppola, the film is set in a slightly skewed version of the summer of 1964. Martha’s Vineyard is “New Penzance,” The Boy Scouts are the “Khaki Scouts,” and much more military-oriented that the real boy scouts. And the National Weather Service, humorously, is instead called the “U.S. Department of Inclement Weather.” Tilda Swinton played a Social Services representative whose name was actually “Social Services.”
The plot of Moonrise Kingdom is charmingly low-stakes, or at least as low-key as a story about missing children can be. A pair of 12-year-old pen pals named Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) decide one summer to run off together- him from the “Khaki Scout” camp, and her from her family’s home.
Both of the kids speak exactly like adult Wes Anderson characters, and I mean that in the best possible sense. It recalls the flashback in The Royal Tenenbaums in which Richie and Margot ran off to the museum together as kids.
Most of the film is a frantic search for the two of them, carried out by the scout group, led by the scoutmaster (Edward Norton), Suzy’s lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), and the captain (Bruce Willis).
Charmingly low-stakes, or at least as low-key as a story about missing children can be
The film is funny and charming, led by two young performers who more than held their own alongside a cast full of veteran actors. Neither of the young stars went on to much of a career ― though Heyward was in Manchester by the Sea, in which she played the girlfriend of Lucas Hedges, who appears in Moonrise Kingdom as one of the scouts.
It was Bruce Willis, in his lone Anderson movie, who essentially walked away with it, and what may have been his last great performance.
Filmed in Rhode Island, Moonrise Kingdom also succeeds in making New Penzance Island a unique, lived-in location.
Moonrise Kingdom, made for a pretty small budget, ended up making a decent $68 million at the worldwide box office. It got rave reviews from most critics who aren’t regular Anderson skeptics and was nominated for a single Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay, losing to Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
It may not be Andreson’s very best, but Moonrise Kingdom has endured, including as the inspiration for many a Halloween costume. The film is streaming on HBO Max.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.