The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 6, 2012

'Moonrise Kingdom' worthy of a road trip to out-of-town theater

JOPLIN, Mo. — A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from a reader. This caught me by surprise, as I wasn’t aware that people actually read this thing, but that was irrefutable proof that there’s at least one out there.

She wanted to voice her displeasure over the movie options available in Joplin. With 14 screens available, seemingly three quarters are devoted to the week’s latest releases, each one taking up multiple screens. And, while those films certainly have their appeal, she expressed her desire to see more films that fall outside of the scope of the Hollywood mainstream.

I couldn’t agree more. But I told her that as long as one theater chain maintained a monopoly in Joplin, there wasn’t much chance that this would change any time soon.

When the city had two movie chains operating, it seemed like we got more non-traditional films. I remember seeing independents such as “Sling Blade,” “Shine,” “The English Patient” and many more, and not always in the pre-Oscar run-up months.

Now, we can pretty well expect screens to be clogged with popcorn fare until January hits, product dries up and the theater needs to find filler. While the occasional independent might sneak through, it is usually with little fanfare and often goes by undetected if you’re not actively watching for it.

So I recommended other options to her, the main one being to travel outside of town, to The Moxie in Springfield or perhaps to either of the Malcos in Rogers, Ark.

And with so many smaller films gaining attention this summer, it often will be worth the trip.

One of those movies is Wes Anderson’s latest, “Moonrise Kingdom.” Set in 1960s New England, ‘Kingdom’ is the story of two star-crossed lovers, albeit of the younger variety.

Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphan who focuses his attentions on a Boy Scouts type group. One summer, he happens upon Suzy (Kara Hayward), a troubled young girl who seems lost within her family. The two begin exchanging letters and decide to meet and run away together. Using Sam’s survival skills, they strike out on their journey of escape as they begin to explore their feelings for each other.

The story is fairly straightforward, or as straightforward as you could expect from an Anderson film. Anderson is a writer and director who revels in quirk and it is in ‘Kingdom’ in ample supply.

The duo is pursued by an overly aggressive scout pack wielding makeshift weapons, as well as Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), a man so dedicated to his duties that he lists his full-time job second to scouting as his passion. Also in pursuit are Suzy’s mom and dad, lawyers Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), as well as police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).

Overseeing the entire story is the narrator (Bob Balaban), who keeps the audience up to date on the hurricane scheduled to hit the island.

Anderson has always excelled at plugging in the right actors to the right roles and extracting great performances. Murray’s role is somewhat limited, but his world-weary father hits on all the right notes.

Norton throws himself full on into his character, the gung-ho dedicated scout leader driven by molding boys into men. Willis, who only seems to really click when working with directors who know how to utilize him, brings a nice mix of sadness and resignation to Sharp. While the supporting cast is exceptionally strong, Willis and Norton really latch on to their characters and don’t let go.

But the film wouldn’t work if the two young leads weren’t able to act as the emotional core. Both Gilman and Hayward are making their professional debuts, but both are fearless in their takes on the young lovers. Each seems to understand fully what is driving their characters, and they explore these motivations.

It is equally a testament to Anderson’s abilities as a director that he was able to elicit such polished performances from the inexperienced duo. With the wrong casting or the wrong take on the role, the film wouldn’t have come together, but both of the young actors walk the line precisely.

This being an Anderson film, there is still plenty of the ridiculous and bizarre. The film walks the edges of the absurd to great comic effect, but still manages to stay grounded enough to allow for the tender and touching moments.

Wes Anderson is one of those directors, like Paul Thomas Anderson or Alexander Payne, who doesn’t make a lot of films, but when he does release one it is embraced and savored, with full knowledge that the next one won’t come around for a while.

“Moonrise Kingdom” should bring satisfaction to even the most ardent of followers, and most likely will win the director a new legion of fans. It is a touching, funny and extremely satisfying look at the purity of young love, a fitting addition to the director’s catalog and an introduction to two young actors worth watching.

Though it probably won’t play Joplin, it’s worth the effort to track it down.

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