It’s not exactly the popcorn action flick you think of when you hear the phrase “summer movie,” but Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom may be one of the most evocative portrayals of that season that I’ve seen. It takes place in summer 1965 on a craggy New England island, and you can practically smell the salty sea air through the screen. The film centers on two unlikely lovebirds: preteens Sam Shakusky (an orphan and a dedicated “Khaki Scout” played by Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (a morose, soft-spoken girl played by Kara Hayward). Via a series of letters, Sam and Suzy hatch a plan to ditch their adult guardians and make a new “home” together on a sandy edge of their little island—a spot they call Moonrise Kingdom.
Anderson’s been criticized for sometimes favoring style over substance; to wit, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which was beautiful, perfectly scored, and eminently forgettable. The director doesn’t shy away from cartoonishly twee settings or storylines, and he leans heavily on references to French New Wave cinema. A good chunk of his movies seem like they’ve been run through an Instagram filter called “Late 60s Cool.” His flicks are also overwhelming populated with intellectual Caucasians who live effortlessly privileged lives in their charming, antique-filled homes. All those same criticisms could be levied against Moonrise Kingdom, whose fast-paced, snappy dialogue is a far cry from the way actual humans speak. But even though the film didn’t make much of an emotional impact on me, I was salivating over the settings and visuals in the days after I saw it. Simply put: this movie looks fucking amazing.
When casting the adults in Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson pulled out the big guns: it features Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Jason Schwartzman, and Tilda Swinton. The kid actors in Moonrise Kingdom are newbies to the acting game and it shows. But their awkwardness suits the film’s intentionally caricatured style. The below scene, in which Sam and Suzy take an inventory of what she’s brought to their expedition, illustrates what I’m talking about.
Moonrise Kingdom didn’t make me laugh like Rushmore, make my heart twinge like Bottle Rocket, or make me gasp like The Royal Tenenbaums. Is it Anderson’s best? I don’t think so. However, sinking into a cushy chair and watching this tale of puppy love and familial bonds (not to mention its period-perfect costumes and interiors), felt like sweet escapism, a treat for the eyes. Sometimes that’s exactly what cinema is for.
If you want a little behind-the-scenes Moonrise Kingdom action, check out some making-of featurettes, below.