Apologies, Mr. Fredricksen, but there’s a new older man in my life. I finally saw Moonrise Kingdom, and have consequently come to the conclusion that Bob Balaban is the cutest human ever to have walked this blessed earth.
Bob Balaban is the nameless narrator and the local historian of sorts in Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom. While I’ve liked a few of his films — hipsters, brace yourselves — I’m not usually a fan of Wes Anderson’s work. They’re generally a little too precious for me. But clearly a girlfriend (Juman Malouf) and a writing partner (Roman Coppola) were just what the doctor ordered. Moonrise Kingdom is a gem.
By the way, I’m not sure what you’ll see if you click on the film’s title but right now, IMDb is suggesting I check out A Separation since I’ve searched for Moonrise Kingdom. That’s just totally twisted. A Separation is heartbreaking and depressing as hell. If you needed an example of a polar opposite of Moonrise Kingdom‘s mood, A Separation would be it.
Anyway, the plot of Moonrise, in short. The year is 1965. The location is New Penzance, New England. The summer camp, Camp Ivanhoe, has a problem. One of its khaki scouts, an orphan named Sam Shakusky, has tendered his resignation and run away. It turns out that this is just part of the problem. Suzy Bishop, eldest of the four Bishop children, has also run away and she’s taken the kitten and her brother’s record player with her. Sam and Suzy have been pen pals for a year and they’ve planned this elopement very carefully. Unfortunately for them, the other khaki scouts as well as the solitary policeman on the island, Captain Sharp, are looking for them. The two are discovered and separated. They run away again, get married, hide out from search parties in a church … did I mention they’re 12 years old?
Ultimately, everything works out. Just when they’re about to jump off the church’s steeple, Captain Sharp saves the day. There is the minor problem of a storm and flood that devastate the area, but the point is, everyone lives happily ever after.
Right at the end of the film, you realise why the film is called Moonrise Kingdom. That’s what Suzy and Sam named the cove to which they’d eloped. It’s a place that exists only in their memories because the flood permanently filled up/closed off (whatever is the correct word) the little cove.
It’s been a while since I saw such a beautiful film. All the usual Anderson themes are there: the mother who is strong, sympathetic and adulterous; brothers who are alienated but ultimately have one another’s back; daddy issues which get resolved; the girl who is troubled and aloof and desperate to be loved. We’ve seen these repeatedly in Anderson’s films but he manages to use them so that they don’t seem like exhausted tropes, particularly in Moonrise Kingdom. From the doll’s house neatness of the Bishops’ homes to the perfection of the props, every frame is just gorgeous. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is just spectacularly beautiful. The scene where she and Sam (Jared Gilman, adorable) meet, she’s wearing a raven’s costume and the first time you see her black-eyelinered eyes… I literally gasped. Sam and Suzy are just the sweetest little couple. I imagine they’d send each other postcards like this one when they grow up:
Sam and Suzy are pure romance. It’s not a coincidence, surely, that Sam and Suzy meet during a performance of Noah’s Ark or that the day the performance is cancelled is the day that a real flood roars through New Penzance. Their Moonrise Kingdom — which reminded me of that line from “Bernadette” by Paul Simon: “I’ve got a hiding place in Central Park” — disappears at the end of their adventure, as perhaps does their innocence. But this is more sweet than bitter. They grow up and there are new things to look forward to. You hope they’ll always have Moonrise Kingdom and that they won’t become the unhappy creatures that Captain Sharp and the elder Bishops are.
Everyone is adorable in the movie, even Bruce Willis, who plays Captain Sharp. Near the end, there’s a shot in which the church steeple is broken and dangling from a rope is Captain Sharp, who is holding on to Sam who in turn has Suzy clinging to him. “Don’t let go,” says Captain Sharp. That must be a little Andersonian ode to Willis and his action hero past. That Bob Balaban manages to outcute everyone is a sure sign of the actor’s brilliance. Because he does. Anderson shoots him so that he looks almost like a little gnome, his head popping up at the edges of frame or looking decidedly tiny against the expanse of the beautiful landscape. I can’t actually think of a movie that Balaban has been in and not been fantastic, but in Moonrise Kingdom, he’s just the most lovesome little guy. Looking at Sam and his glasses and his hat, I kept thinking that maybe he grows up to be Bob Balaban (same glasses, equally odd hat).
There are some fabulous lines in the film — “I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about”, “What kind of a bird are you?”, “I lost my temper at myself”, “I think they’re going to get bigger” — but the one exchange that lingered through all the loveliness of Moonrise Kingdom was between Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
Walt: “Which injuries specifically are you apologising for?”
Laura: “Which injuries specifically? Whichever ones that still hurt.”
Walt: “Those were self-inflicted.”
At the end, against the last image of Moonrise Kingdon, was a super that read, “For Juman”. (Juman Malouf is Anderson’s girlfriend.) I awww-ed audibly. That’s just so darn… sweet.
I can feel parts of my midriff turning to mush even as I type those lines.