What we have here is essentially a love story about a pair of pre-teen runaways on a camping trip; Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), rogue Khaki Scout deserter and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), oddball daughter of the island’s two resident lawyers, making her something of a rebel without a clause. HEEEY YOOOO.
These young sprouts just want to have a totally rad camping date, an admirable sentiment but one to which The Authority’s reaction is sadly predictable:
Queue a pursuit from Shakusky’s scout master (Ed Norton) and former comrades in arms (armed with a rather Lord of the Flies esque attitude), the police chief (Bruce Willis), a pair of rather irate parents (Bill Murray and Francis McDormand) and the angular blue replicant known as ‘Social Services’ (Tilda Swinton).
Something you’ll immediately be stuck by is the quality of the visuals. Set on the gorgeous island of ‘New Penzance’ off the coast of New England, Moonrise Kingdom is a surreal inkblot of the world painted in vivid Enid-Blyton hues – all sharp lines, wholesome veneer and everything just slightly off scale. Like a peculiarly hygienic dolls world, a kitsch parody of 1960s America, where the Bishop house becomes the ultimate middle class nightmare: a clockwork monotony of carefully pressed and starched banality. Her brothers operating on a pompous rigidity that makes them look like juvenile Stepford Husbands and a parent who communicates through loud hailer. It’s a construction so effortlessly spot on that it almost defies parody.
Beyond this, the camping excursion itself is easily the strongest component of the film, soaking perfectly in your own nostalgic memories of bygone halcyon summers; the two leads are excellent, their earnest sincerity hilarious and their awkward fledgling romance as painfully realistic as it is ridiculous. A bit like Swallows and Amazons meets Bonnie and Clyde by way of Woody Allen. It’s also a neat device used to explore the disintegrating lives and loves of the ensemble cast, show casing their various inadequacies and petty trespasses. In fact we could probably have done with spending a bit more time pursuing these threads instead of giving way to the farcical ‘hey, let’s have this happen’ mentality that dominates the last act (though this does help it double as a rather slow children’s flick).
Still, that’s smallish beans. Really, the only major problem you may encounter while watching you may find your mind drifting towards two shameful and revolting words: ‘kooky’ and ‘twee’. Sometimes the weird works wonderfully; a platoon of scouts that in Moonrise Kingdom’s universe are a demented cross between the Recess crew and Kelly’s Heroes; half implausible tree house and half home-made nail studded maul, led by a math teacher hiding behind a PG impression of Drillmaster Hartman. You could probably squeeze an entire film’s worth out of the potential mayhem promised by their Red Ryder hooliganism. While at other times it simply feels bussed in simply to court its own cult status – see the in-universe narrator repeatedly addressing the fourth wall. It’s like Zooey Deschanel syndrome – you either love it or loathe it… which I suppose makes Deschanel a bit like hipster Marmite…
While it loses focus towards the end and your mileage with its carefully cultivated ‘indieness’ is definitely going to vary, Moonrise Kingdom is ultimately both clever and charming and definitely worth a look in, especially if you’re still suffering from PTSD thanks to Bridge to Terabithia.