The revision I sent in wasn’t printed, so read this version instead:
The last time Wes Anderson came around the block to show us a live action feature, 2009’s The Darjeeling Limited, he faced a baptism of fire like he’s never faced before. Critics and fans alike, as well as the regular crop of haters, seemed to be waiting to shout “hipster crap!” to the first person who would listen. Too quirky! It’s Tenenbaums in a different continent! And the damn soundtrack!
To his credit though, he came through that trial completely unphased, first delivering the stop-motion wonder The Fantastic Mr. Fox and now the throwback first love tale, Moonrise Kingdom. Once again,Anderson has dipped deeply into his ink well of familiar tropes and flourished each thought with his singular style.
His seventh film, Moonrise presents a simple story: a boy and a girl, Sam and Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), both young, both outcasts who are occasionally prone to violent outbursts, fall in love. The pair, feeling their home lives caving in on them, decide to run away to make that love work within the little bit of space they can carve out together before parents (Frances McDormand and an absolutely show-stealing performance by Bill Murray), troopmasters (Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Law (Bruce Willis) can catch up with them to tell them they’re too damn young.
It’s a nice story to think about, and many people will find it to be a story they’ve been thinking about in some shape or form since they were twelve too. But there’s been some suggestion in the ether that the film’s premise doesn’t necessarily work because kids don’t fall in love like that, not that deeply, not that young. And all kids don’t, but some do. The plot description describes my fifth grade classmates Andy and Zoë as much as it describes Sam and Suzy. Andy and Zoë, occasionally violent outcasts themselves, were able to convince enough people of their love that when they got “married” during a spring recess after lunch period, nearly every kid from fourth and fifth grade followed them in a mass wedding procession around the schoolyard as the teachers watched on in awe. Much like Khaki Scout Troop 55 — who view Sam as their mortal enemy — eventually comes around to Sam and Suzy’s side, becoming their eventual protectors, we came around to Andy and Zoë’s side too in the face of such a mad display of love.
That kind of mad display both stories have has to be respected, maybe even envied. As torturous as those years are, these are the kinds of moments you can look back on without the echoes of a stomach ache and Moonrise hits on this hard and with passion in every stride. Anderson’s woodsy thought process won’t necessarily evoke a true childhood moment for all, but elicits a thorough batch of the rainy summer daydreams where most grand childhood adventures and romances are so often had: in heads and hearts, if not in flesh. Maybe that’s a more true evocation of childhood anyway, because the best part of childhood is the imagination. It’s the things we wish we could do, before we know why we can’t do them. Fly like Superman, draw like John Romita Jr, swing like Ken Griffey Jr, or just to be able to speak to your crush without dropping dead right on the spot. They’re all equally impossible at that age, except in our heads, and in our movies.