When I was a kid, I had tapes. They matched up with a seriously beat-up boombox. My father gave me my first tape. It was ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ by Benjamin Britton. I recorded over that tape on the other side. Songs off the radio joined this first gift of music. When it inevitably got taped over, a little part of my childhood was wiped out forever. So when I heard this song’s use in the trailer, those memories of early innocent childhood came flooding back. The plot even reminded me of a dream I had as a child. I wanted to run away with a girl. In my dreams we ran away from school and wrote mysteries while living underneath shrubs in the suburbs. Unlike ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ I never saw nature as a child. To me, shrubs were off limits, almost mysterious in their absolute pointlessness. We’d live in the divisions of boredom and it would be great.
Wes has been building up to this single movie for quite some time. Elements from all his previous movies are here only more refined. We get the young anger and disappointment that Max Fisher had. Indeed, Sam could be seen as a child of Max Fischer, right down to the glasses and knowledge in one specific area. His dry delivery is very similar. Yet with Max Fischer people had certain problems with his behavior, deeming him somewhat disturbed due to the loss of his mother. Make Max younger, slightly more caring about others, and a bit more disadvantaged and you get this character.
Suzy is similar to Margot in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’. Here too Wes appears to perfect his character. Now Suzy is prone to fits of pure rage. Her demeanor is never quite explained, unlike Margot’s in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’. Suzy is a sympathetic character in how she interacts with Sam. Their desire for one another is charming. They are two young social outcasts who fit in absolutely nowhere at all.
The ensemble cast shows improvement as well. Now the characters bond together with a little less obvious sentimentality than ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ or the emptiness of ‘The Life Aquatic’. Rather we feel a sense of these people less as characters and more as people. A few of them show great amounts of anguish in tiny, little ways. Walt Bishop’s answer of ‘Why’ shows a little bit of his quiet, reserved, and tortured existence. He’s virtually comatose and perfect for the role.
Edits are much sharper. When a battle scene happens it is immediately cut. The cut is an improvement over the cut leading to Zissou’s helicopter crash into the ocean. Somehow the edits are justified, earned even. Wes focuses less on the event and more on the aftermath. More time is spent thinking about things. In the rare pure action sequences Wes uses an almost tongue-in-cheek demeanor, via the rescue from camp, Suzy’s loss of her binoculars, or Sam’s navigation and camping skills.
Use of music is a great improvement. Some of Wes’s more recent films overused the soundtrack. ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ used it in one particularly good scene that would’ve have been infinitely better without the music. Silence would have sufficed. In ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Wes appears to follow the instructions given by Benjamin Britton. Pieces come in slowly. Little conflicts are mentioned, piece by piece. Eventually they burst forth, like the dam, or the camp grounds. This is probably part of the reason for the rather packed third act.
Emotionally the movie is packed. A few near-quiet moments are among my favorites. Watch the opening scene around the Bishop’s house. See the look of the theater piece, which references ‘Rushmore’ and its obsession with theater. Even the little costumes feel appropriate, whether in the theater or as ‘Khaki Scouts’. They are so distinctly Wes’s signature. These too show an improvement upon the previous theater pieces, which tended to show accomplishments or achievements. In this movie they serve more as a way of bringing people together.
This may be one of Wes’s best movies. After the relatively slow, empty-feeling ‘The Life Aquatic’, slightly emotionally askew ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ and the hyper-active twee of ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ Wes has learned to temper his indulgent impulses. What the audience gets out of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is Wes’s most fully realized film yet.