Wes Anderson movies are an acquired taste. The director’s visual style is a bit too quirky for the mainstream, and sometimes the art house crowd find it too laboured. I like his work, although I wasn’t a great admirer of The Darjeeling Limited-I found it a touch too slow, lacking in forward momentum, which is ironic considering that the majority of the film takes place on a train. I also failed to catch The Fantastic Mr Fox, his stop-motion effort featuring the vocal talents of George Clooney and Meryl Streep (I don’t “do” animation-sue me.) All this brings us to Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s latest effort.
Tonally, Moonrise Kingdom sits between Rushmore and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. It’s a whimsical tale about young love that manages to find the right balance between quirky comedy/adventure and coming of age drama. Set in 1960s New England, the film sees Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play Sam and Suzy, two young lovers who run away from their unhappy lives. Hot on their heels is a search party consisting of Sam’s Scout Master (Edward Norton), Suzy’s bickering parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the local police officer (Bruce Willis). Along the way all involved learn life lessons and a way of dealing with their constrained existences.
Props must be given to Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who deliver nuanced performances that are heartfelt and kooky. Devoid of the usual stage school smarm that emanates off most child actors, they create two likeable characters that have a lot of depth and emotion. Bruce Willis shakes off a decade’s worth of malaise to again show us that there is a great actor lurking beneath that tough guy persona, while Murray offers another take on his world weary and browbeaten middle-aged male. McDormand plays the exasperated mother with her usual flair and Edward Norton brings a touch of warmth and naiveté to his role of Scout Leader. Somewhere in the mix is Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel, who have little to do other than add a bit of tension to proceedings in the final act, and although this could be a criticism-it isn’t. The film has enough well drawn characters that a pair of archetypal villains can’t hinder the goodwill that the preceding 60 minutes has built-up.
Anderson’s film has the cut and precision as one of his finely tailored trademark suits. Its brown and yellow hues add a detailed rustic appeal to the film, giving it a sepia tone quality. The world of Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t exist, well it does, but only in the mind of Anderson (and co-writer) Roman Coppola. It’s a Euro-favoured America of the past; imagine François Truffaut’s 400 Blows crossed with Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. It takes place in a world devoid of mobile phones, GPS tracking and the internet, a land of Once Upon a Time.
Moonrise Kingdom is a fairytale; a rose tinted look at the past, with the usual Wes Anderson style. There will be those who will criticise the film for its lack of reality or depth, but they will have misunderstood Anderson’s point – it is about the optimistic outlook that only youth brings. While it may not soar to the heights of Rushmore or The Life Aquatic, it still fits nicely beside The Royal Tenenbaums in the grand hall of Wes Anderson movies-and what more could you ask for?