Everybody should have at least one favourite Wes Anderson film. Mine is The Royal Tenenbaums, however, after the terribly self-indulgent The Darjeeling Express and prior to that the good, but underwhelming Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I must admit, I had become rather jaded with Anderson’s output. His unique adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox was a step in the right direction, but it wasn’t quite the return to form I secretly yearned for. So, is Anderson’s first live action film since 2007, any good? Well, put it like this, Moonrise Kingdom is officially my second favourite, Wes Anderson film. Here’s why
The film is set in 1965, in the small coastal town of New Penzance. Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are two unpopular kids, who meet accidentally at a school production of Noye’s Fludde. The duo begin exchanging letters -remember this is before emails and the internet -and soon they decide to run-off together. Sam is an orphan and a Khaki Scout, his foster parents aren’t too keen on his rebellious antics, so they’re less than concerned to hear that he’s run away. Suzy’s parents though, aren’t so cavalier towards their daughter’s decision, and soon small town policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and even the Social Services, are called-in to help bring the young lovers on the lam, safely home.
There has always been a certain misty-eyed, youthful innocence to Anderson’s films and so his decision to make a film where the children are the leads is a natural transition, particularly after Fantastic Mr Fox. But, as with Anderson’s prior film, this is far too quirky, and true to form, self-indulgent to ever be considered, a kids’ film. Anderson’s fondness for remembering things the way they never were is put to great use here by making the protagonists children, after all, who remembers their childhood as it was -our memories are often embellished or exaggerated.
For those not so familiar with Anderson’s films, or those who just straight-up don’t like the director, then they may find the child actors acting rather irritating, but rarely is any of Anderson’s dialogue, truly ‘believable’. The dialogue is often ‘stagey’, contrived and awkwardly delivered, drawing you to its artifice and that’s part of his charm or not, depending upon your point of view.
The child actors, including all of the Scouts do a decent enough job, as do the adults. However, I’m pleased to see that with the exception of a few, we’ve got a fresh bunch of actors on show here. With the exception of Bill Murray, all of Anderson’s ‘regulars’ that do appear do so in small cameo roles, such as Bored to Death’s Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben in a scene-stealing moment. This is a good thing and it’s great to see veteran actors in such self-deprecating roles, such as Bruce Willis as the bored and lonely, small town cop, instead of the swaggering, cocksure John Mcclane that we’re accustomed to.
Then there’s Ed Norton as Scout Master Ward and his unfashionably high, short-shorts and even Harvey Keitel sending-up his own machismo, as Scout Commander Pierce. Tilda Swinton races in towards the film’s conclusion as Social Services (actual character name!) and Frances McDormand, does a fine job as the mother of Suzy and wife to Bill Murray’s Walt Bishop in a relationship which has plainly seen happier days.
As per usual, Anderson’s film palette is all pastel hues, with miniatures for action sequences and a soundtrack which is as important as the film’s dialogue. This really is a demonstration of what Anderson can do when properly motivated, the pieces are all here and when put together the effect, as with The Royal Tenenbaum’s, is mesmerising. But what elevates this film over that one is Anderson’s framing, he’s yet to direct such an exquisitely, beautifully shot film, as this. Every frame is perfect -perfect!
While Moonrise Kingdom may not feature a character with the majesty of Royal Tenenbaum, it has done something I wasn’t expecting, and that’s to rekindle my love for the films of Wes Anderson. Perhaps it’s time that the once prolific ‘Dim’ Tim Burton took page out his quirky, contemporary’s book and returned to the formula which made him a success. Welcome back Mr Anderson, how I have missed your unique point of view.