My mother raised four sons (and their friends and dogs and rabbits…) in a rambling, wreck of a house in a small town with plenty of woods and fields surrounding it. So the idea of a mother in the mid-60s managing her four in a similar setting with a bullhorn in hand doesn’t seem farfetched.
The hand holding it in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is Mrs. Bishop’s (the splendid Frances McDormand). One can well imagine why when her 12-year-old daughter, Suzy, runs away, she takes with her a portable record player, a suitcase full of hardcover novels and a paperback guide to dealing with troubled children.
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is a fantasy, and the Narrator’s (Bob Balaban) opening lines tip its nature and its cheerful prospect.
Suzy is Peter Pan’s Wendy with eye-shadow no pre-teen would have worn in 1965. She runs away with a Khaki Scout, Sam, who happens to be in camp on the New England island on which she lives.
Short, nerdy, a bit pudgy and an orphan, Sam is the living self-image of most 12-year-old males – the antithesis of the boy Suzy would be seen with. He even wears Roy Orbison glasses of 1963.
Which brings to mind the soundtrack – an inspired conflation of excellent classical recordings (mainly Benjamin Britten), French torch singers and Hank Williams. This mix makes a soundtrack album inconceivable, but in context in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ it works brilliantly.
A Williams hit cues most appearances of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the kind-hearted local constable. I suspect Willis likes working with kids because he’s more three dimensional in this two-dimensional role than in any since ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999), my favorite of his movies.
Captain Sharp is also Mrs. Bishop’s lover. Her ending of their affair, a scene of a minute at most, is surprisingly touching in such a light-hearted movie. The setting is part Hopper, part romantic photograph of a woman, her bicycle and her lover.
As with this one, every scene has its references. Sam’s scout troop of a dozen sits at a long table with their scoutmaster in the middle, as in DaVinci’s ‘Last Supper’. The foster home from which he’s expelled holds a gang of Jets in blue jeans and white T-shirts with cigarette packs rolled into their left sleeves.
No small part of the fun of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ lies in picking up on the jokes embedded in each scene. Keep an eye out for the scout merit badges and campsite names.
The large cast, which includes Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, shows how an ensemble should be orchestrated. One of the movie’s many self-referential jokes is that the Bishop children listen to much of Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ describing how it is put together and works as one.
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is a perfect movie for a rainy summer day or any other time you choose to watch it.
1. This website is one of the best for a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s as witty as, believe it or not, the credits for the movie.
2. Wes Anderson seems to have a thing for very vulnerable girls with troweled-on eye shadow. Recall Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’. Why, I can’t say, but it’s the one thing about these two movies I like very much that bothers me – a lot.