In a world where bland, generic filmmaking is the norm, Wes Anderson has (over the years) restored my faith that cinema can be something more, something greater than merely palliative entertainment. Trouble is, he’s not exactly prolific, having directed only seven films in the 16 years since his feature film debut, Bottle Rocket (1996). His films though are invariably worth the wait; and his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, is no exception.
Moonrise Kingdom was the opening night film at Cannes this year, where it received a mixed reception. While I can appreciate that there are some who might have difficulty with Anderson’s highly stylised approach, I can’t understand how anyone could fail to be charmed by his deceptively simple but totally engaging story.
The script, co-written by Anderson and Roman Coppola (yes, Sofia’s brother), is a masterclass in understatement. It doesn’t hurl plot points at you; instead it inveigles you into the film’s particular world and then takes you for a gentle ride. You don’t need to work out where the plot is headed, because that’s not the point. In any case, I seriously doubt many people would even be able to work out where things eventually end up.
It’s also very funny – although I probably should qualify that statement. It’s very funny in that low-key Wes Anderson style of funny. Fans of, say, Woody Allen will probably appreciate it. On the other hand, if you’re after Eddie Murphy-funny or Judd Atapow-funny, then this is definitely not the movie for you.
The other notable aspect of this film is just how visual it is. Although there is quite a lot of talking, in the end, I got the distinct impression that you could turn off the sound entirely and still pretty much follow what was going on. Some of the images are exquisite; and his use of what’s sometimes known as ‘rostrum camera’ in one early scene is simply brilliant.
In Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson returns to the childhood milieu of Rushmore. His protagonists are two 12 year-olds; Sam (Jared Gillam) and Suzy (Kara Hayward). Sam is an orphan who’s spending the summer of 1965 with a scout troop on the sleepy island of New Penzance. Suzy lives with her large and rather quirky family on the same island. One fine late summer’s morning, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) wakes to find Sam missing. He immediately institutes a search by the other scouts for the lost boy. However, since Sam is universally disliked by his peers, their enthusiasm for the search is limited. Their only real motivation is that they might be able to inflict pain on Sam when they find him. Meanwhile, Suzy’s parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) discover their daughter is also missing. They notify the local police force, which consists solely of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). It soon becomes apparent that the two youngsters have run away together – but why? And where are they going?
If you’re familiar with some of Anderson’s other work, you’ll appreciate that there are larger themes to be played out. These include Anderson’s now-familiar leitmotif of family; although the way he deals with that topic here is rather unexpected and quite inventive.
As mentioned, the film looks great with frequent Anderson collaborator Robert D. Yeoman delivering crisp images that make full use of the film’s picturesque locations (it was shot mainly in the US state of Rhode Island). Yeoman also delivers some interesting takes on the film’s 1960s setting. Two giants of modern movie music, Alexandre Desplat and Mark Mothersbaugh, collaborate on the soundtrack, which also features an eclectic (well, what did you expect) combination of classical music – notably Benjamin Britten – and 60s pop tunes.
Two young stars are unearthed in the form of Jared Gillam and Kara Hayward. Although the latter looks perhaps a little older than her character, both produce compelling portrayals of the protagonists. Behind them though is a cavalcade of big-name stars, many of them Anderson regulars. Bill Murray and Bruce Willis are both wonderfully deadpan in their roles, but manage to bring a certain gravitas to them. Frances McDormand gets to be a bit more expressive as Suzy’s mother, and has some wonderful moments. Edward Norton is totally engaging as the rather gormless scout leader; and Tilda Swinton pops up as a by-the-book social worker.
If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you won’t want to miss Moonrise Kingdom. This is arguably his best film since The Royal Tenenbaums; although I must admit to having a soft spot for The Darjeerling Limited. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, this is probably a good introduction to the director’s individual style.