2012, 94mins, 12
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer (s): Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Cast includes: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray
UK Release date: 25th May 2012
My relationship with Wes Anderson has been a volatile one, the American film-maker often infuriating with his brand of aggressively offbeat writing and directorial tics. Moments of brilliance have surfaced, largely encapsulated by 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”, but that one major success is overshadowed by misjudged (yet oddly beloved) efforts such as “Rushmore” and his irksome adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. On paper “Moonrise Kingdom” looks like another foaming slice of the man’s usual shtick, the director bringing in regulars (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman), famous newbies (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton) for a ride around his quirky narrative merry-go-round, this time the focus being the young love between a Wilderness scout and an unhappy prepubescent girl on a remote coastal island. The film begins with a grating combination of gratuitous longshots, deliberately unresponsive acting and silly metaphors, but “Moonrise Kingdom” thankfully warms itself up, the innocence and cute surrealism of the story actually allowing Anderson to ply his usual touches quite effectively. The film is a pleasant surprise and quite possibly the best work stamped with the Wes Anderson brand.
On a remote Coastal Town, 12-year old Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) has gone AWOL. His regimented but kind-hearted superior Ward (Edward Norton, much softer than usual) is thrown into a panic, assembling his youthful bunch of devoted underlings to help find Sam and get him back to camp safely. Sam’s chief reason for departing is to meet up with crush Suzy (Kara Hayward) a sullen girl, struggling with parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) who can’t grasp her individuality. Suzy’s folks and Ward both contact local authority Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who pours a considerable amount of his time into finding the escaped youngsters. However Sam and Suzy are just happy to roam the wilderness together, their love for each other helping them overcome the obstacles the forest and their pursuers represent.
Being a Wes Anderson flick, “Moonrise Kingdom” is naturally much less mainstream than it sounds. The director’s fascination with lingering, silent close-ups is back in full force, as is attention to weird comedic detail, as evidenced by his attempts to make the murder of a dog blackly laughable. Yet there’s a warmness here and a refusal to completely indulge the film-maker’s traits that renders “Moonrise Kingdom” a genuine charmer, the unusual and not always welcome characteristics of typical Anderson fare actually buffering the picture sweetly, the director at home in the queer little dreamland the Island setting affords. At no point does “Moonrise Kingdom” attempt to be anything more than light whimsy, avoiding the yearning for unearned and overreaching depth that scuppered past outings, most notably his incredibly overrated high-school drama “Rushmore”. The film is a light-hearted contrast of first love and adult relationships, Anderson striving to be sincere on the subject as opposed to abstractly profound. The newfound tone is a keener fit, the picture taking itself less seriously and coming off as far more likeable in due course
The performances are a particular highlight. Anderson’s love of static under-reaction sneaks its way into some of the child based stuff, but the adults are largely left to do their own thing. Thank God. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton are standouts, the latter enchanting with a naivety and optimism that hasn’t been present in his work for quite some time. Willis has always been an actor occasionally willing to deviate from his macho image (something he doesn’t get enough credit for), and he does so exquisitely in “Moonrise Kingdom”, his turn laced with kind-hearted sadness and irreverent comedic perception. McDormand and Murray are left to occupy the fringes, Murray managing at least a handful of his traditional zingers. With the material depending less on blatant idiosyncrasy, the actors are allowed more freedom to attack their parts without Anderson’s smug input, allowing the thespian input considerable freshness and the ability to wiggle out of its helmer’s usually vice like clutch.
The central romance is tender, engaging but appreciatively basic. Anderson’s aspirations in this field are simplistic and he fulfils them perfectly, meaning that the finale actually packs a degree of fundamental emotional punch. The production design is distinctive and the photography lush without being overbearing. Obviously a tolerance for the crazed is advised, but what’s nice about “Moonrise Kingdom” is that it plays positively beyond the realms of Anderson fandom. It’s a funny, unique little treat, packed with enough honesty and strange charisma to transport and excite audiences satisfactorily.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012