Yet another remarkable feather in Wes Anderson’s cinematic hat, 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is an enormously lovely adventure which pays homage to classic children’s books. This is the director’s second screenplay co-written by Roman Coppola (after 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited), and it fervidly incorporates Anderson’s key idiosyncrasies. Of course, some viewers will never find themselves able to embrace Anderson’s distinctively quirky moviemaking style, but his fans will undoubtedly find Moonrise Kingdom to be enrapturing. Furthermore, Anderson proves he’s not a one-trick pony by bringing something new to table with this film; a mainstream accessibility achieved not through dumbing down his vision, but through refining it. Moonrise Kingdom is possibly the perfect Wes Anderson movie, as it encapsulates his values and exhibits his gift for visual flair.
Taking place on the island of New Penzance in 1965, the story concerns 12-year-old Khaki Scout Sam (Gilman), an orphan who’s disenfranchised with both the scout troupe and society in general. Sam decides to make a break for it, escaping the scout camp to start a whole new life in the woods. Joining him is young pen pal Suzy (Hayward), who’s equally desperate to escape from her lawyer parents. As the two edge deeper into the forest to be alone, adults begin scrambling to find them, including local policeman Captain Sharp (Willis), a Social Services representative (Swinton) and Khaki Scout Master Ward (Norton).
The plot is unremarkable and dull on the surface, making it rather pointless to recount the narrative ins and outs of Moonrise Kingdom. But it’s Anderson’s marvellous execution of the mundane tale which gives the picture its spark of brilliance – like most of the director’s efforts, this is a film that must be experienced, not merely discussed, as there’s so much more here than any review will be able to provide. Moonrise Kingdom is frequently amusing, but the characters never seem in on the joke – the humour is derived from the irony and the inherent awkwardness of several situations, not to mention one well-placed sight gag. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the film is that it sublimely captures the spirited, juvenile nature of love at an early age, and it juxtaposes such whimsical feelings against the lonely, despondent adult characters. As a result, Moonrise Kingdom is funny, relatable and moving, and it packs lasting power.
There is no other active director whose style is as immediately recognisable as Wes Anderson’s. If you catch a small snippet of any one of his flicks, it takes mere seconds to identify that it’s an Anderson production. His fingerprints are so distinctive: graceful long takes, artistic production design, zoned-out characters, elegant tracking shots, and gentle, whimsical scoring (here provided by Alexandre Desplat). But while Moonrise Kingdom is permeated with Anderson DNA, the picture is its own unique experience. Here, the director explores the outdoors and recreates boy scout life with a heroic amount of detail. Richard Yeoman’s camerawork is fluid and beautiful, not to mention it feels astonishingly precise. Admittedly, the film fails to plumb any great emotional depths and it does struggle to maintain momentum from time to time. However, the film is infused with a considerable amount of earnest sweetness, and that’s enough to outweigh any minor flaws.
Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are motion picture first-timers, but you would never think it. In spite of their youth and inexperience, the pair share more chemistry than most leading couples, and they’re tremendously believable. Hayward is the better of the two as Suzy. The kind of natural talent that seems destined for stardom, Hayward has a wonderful screen presence of intelligence, beauty, innocence and vulnerability. Bruce Willis is another standout here, moving away from his typecast roles (most of which he sleeps through these days) to deliver an understated performance as the local sheriff. Seeing Willis here is unexpected yet appreciated, and the star brings a warm, soft touch to the film. Edward Norton is equally solid as the Khaki Scout Master, while Tilda Swinton is excellent as the dour social services representative. Anderson regular Bill Murray also appears as Suzy’s father. It’s doubtful that Murray even knew he was in the movie – judging by his hilariously random behaviour and line delivery here, it looks as if Anderson just followed Murray with a camera and filmed snippets of the actor’s life. Rounding out the all-star cast is Frances McDormand as Suzy’s mother, and a side-splitting Jason Schwartzman as another scout.
Moonrise Kingdom is not flawless, but it’s a damn good Wes Anderson picture which can be enjoyed by more than just the art house crowd. It’s one hell of an experience to watch the film and absorb the care, detail and intelligence that Anderson put into his creation, which is welcome to witness in this day and age.