I’m going to preface this review with a confession: I’d never seen a Wes Anderson film before this one. Not even The Royal Tenenbaums. I know. Some film buff I am. But anyway, just keep that in mind while reading this.
Had this movie not gotten the supremely high critical acclaim that it did, I probably wouldn’t ever have seen it. The trailer showed me a quirky family romantic comedy about a boy scout, Sam, and a “troubled” girl, Suzy, and their journey as they run away so they can be together. Does that sound like a movie I would be even remotely interested in? No. However, I had a free movie ticket and Moonrise Kingdom was the most interesting thing that was screening. And now it may well be one of my favourite movies of the year.
The biggest reason Moonrise Kingdom is so great is in its main message. Through the relationship between the two protagonists, it discusses the maturity levels of children (in this case, 13 year-olds) in relation to the maturity levels that authoritative adults apply to them. Sam and Suzy explore the romantic and sexual parts of their emotional spectrum together in just as real a way as if they were 5 years older. The film argues that children should not be denied the right to act upon these emotions and that it is unjust for them to have their behaviour restricted despite the fact that their emotions have grown to a mature enough point for them to have the appropriate feelings. There are scenes in the film designed specifically to test the viewership’s tolerance of teenage sexual activity (I shouldn’t even say “teenage”, as they’re hardly even that). This is something that really isn’t being spoken about, but I think is really important. The vast majority of people would agree that children are growing far more mature far more quickly than they used to, yet their threshold for such behaviour has hardly lifted at all.
This commentary is blended effortlessly with the narrative, too. The only reason there is even a complication in the film at all is because Sam and Suzy have to flee the restrictive cages of their parents so that they can express their feelings to each other. Were they two adult characters, there wouldn’t even be a movie, cause they would just get together and that would be that. The entire basis for the story is that they feel more for each other than they are permitted to. The 1960s setting, while also being a great aesthetic choice, highlights this even more. The beliefs of the parents are displayed alongside an age of far more conservative (and Christian, as the film very clearly articulates) values. It suggests that restrictions on relationships for children should be far more lenient, especially in the ever-increasingly progressive society we find ourselves in now.
Speaking of setting, Moonrise Kingdom uses it to its fullest visual potential. The world feels almost like something from a modern-age fairy tale, thickly coated in a quaint, quirky, colourful 1960s American pine cottage aesthetic (I really don’t know how to describe it, but if you see an image from the film you’ll know what I mean). And as if to put icing on the cake, the cinematography (by Robert D. Yeoman) was some of the most creative I’ve seen in recent history. Shots constantly took me by surprise and a lot of the time I just couldn’t resist smiling. It’s rare that a film can do that kind of thing to me.
Something that always terrifies is when a movie’s main characters are children, simply because child actors a generally total bullshit. This is absolutely not the case here. The two main actors, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilham, play their roles with more artistry than a lot of adult actors do. If there was an award for Child actors at the Oscars, one of these two kids would get it without a doubt (yes, they beat the performances in Monsieur Lazhar).
I know that this may not look particularly appealing to a lot of people – it didn’t for me either – but trust me when I say it’s absolutely worth it. Hopefully it gets a few of you thinking about something you wouldn’t have otherwise while giving you a purely joyful and visually pleasing experience at the same time. Movies like this don’t come around very often, but when they do, they deserve as much praise as possible.
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