Director Wes Anderson has often been described as original and quirky. This description is both apt and misleading as he previous works have not only been both of these things, but also beautiful, heart-breaking, compelling and in some cases utterly wonderful. From early gems like Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, his work has always had a definitive look in both style and substance. Moonrise Kingdom takes all the elements associated with him to create the single most Wes Anderson-like Wes Anderson film thus far.
Khaki Scouts of North America Scout Master, Randy Ward (Edward Norton) is going through his daily routine, when he notices cadet Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is missing. Upon finding a note he discovers Sam has quit the scout troop and gone off into the wild. There Sam meets Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), a young girl he has been pen pals with for a year. Together the two ˜tourbled children’ plan to escape the sadness of their lives, Sam from his orphans upbringing and Suzy from her family, notably her mother Laura (Frances McDormand) and father Walt (Bill Murray) the whole time being hunted down by the scout troop and Island Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).
From the opening panning and swivelling camera shots there is no doubt that Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film. The low-key comedy is out in full-force as is the rather fantastical nature of the world in which these unusual characters inhabit. Those who have been frustrated by his ‘too-clever-for-his-own-good’ narrative structuring in the past are going to have a tough time with Moonrise Kingdom it should be noted.
We are first introduced to the Bishop family and their home in a lighthouse. Suzy is obviously an unhappy child, while her three brothers are simply an autonomous character there to annoy and frustrate her. The parents, played to straight-laced perfection by McDormand and Murray are equally frustrated not only with their daughters occasionally ˜berserk’ behaviour but with the lack of passion in their lives.
Theirs in fact is a running theme throughout the adults in Moonrise Kingdom. Each of them are sad and lonely in equal measure, while simultaneously unable to change their circumstances. Willis is better than he has been in years as the incredibly lonely police captain who never married or had kids. His interaction with Laura and Walt provide some wonderfully played and surprisingly believable tension. While Norton plays the ˜never quite grown up’ Camp Leader with a surprising amount of naÃ¯ve pathos. These two fantastic performances underpin and ground the more ludicrous elements of the narrative. There’s even a neat cameo from Tilda Swinton as a character simply called ‘Social Services.’ But none of the adult characters have the strength of will to do what Sam and Suzy do and break the cycle of misery.
The strength of Moonrise Kingdom relies heavily on the central performances of newcomers Gilman and Hayward, luckily Anderson has an eye for talented young performers who can fit into the worlds of his creating. Always underplayed to the point of inaction, Moonrise Kingdom‘s Sam and Suzy are like Romeo and Juliet for a prozac generation. Yet it is their strength and depth of character at such a young age that allows the audience to engage with them and it is impossible not be on their side throughout.
With trademark Anderson cinematic flourishes and a rip-roaring dialogue performed to perfection by the cast, both young and old and Moonrise Kingdom is one of the more surprising romantic comedies of the year, and potentially of all time. Critics of Anderson’s whimsical, navel-gazing work would be best to avoid, but for fans, he’s never been more himself.