Isn’t it great when one of your favourite directors of the moment delivers a film that’s even more brilliant and enjoyable than the previous ones? Well I felt exactly that way when I saw ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, Wes Anderson’s latest production. This follows his string of excellent comedies from ‘Rushmore’ (1998) to ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001), ‘The Life Aquatic’ (2004), ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ (2007) and ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ (2009). With its cheerful colours, lovingly crafted details, hilarious characters, improbable situations, not to mention its hugely talented cast, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ comes out as a beautiful feel-good movie, which skilfully avoids the typical tricks American mainstream comedies employ. No systematic dumbing down, no gratuitous ‘Goonie’-style boyish crudeness, no cheesy lecture or sentimental ending… Here, children and grown-ups have swapped roles and the mature, strong-minded kids contrast with the confused and powerless adults around them. This doesn’t mean that there is no room for genuine tenderness or bluntness – but Anderson always manages to keep an imaginative balance, thus preserving the real beauty of his film: a children’s adventure book as seen by a 12-year old kid, made into a superb deadpan comedy.
Set in the 1960s on an island lost off New England, the action sees barely teenage couple Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) run away to a secluded part of the island to live their love freely. Very soon their escape is noticed by Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) – supposedly in charge of Sam during the summer camp – and Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). A search begins amidst the formation of a threatening hurricane, forecast by hilarious narrator Bob Balaban. The Khaki Scout troop and local sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) join forces to find the couple before it’s too late. Little do the local community suspect the preposterous proportions this pursuit will take!
With its elaborate dollhouse cum 1960s children’s novel aesthetics and its countless paraphernalia, from Scouting equipment inventories to extravagant animal pair costumes for a Noah’s Ark school play, you might worry that Anderson put his entire energy into solely creating a visually pleasing film – to the detriment of an engaging plot or plausible characters. But where other detail-obsessed film-makers, such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his infamous “Amélie”, failed to create a truly exciting story because their characters were reduced to the over-the-top manias and quirks that defined them, here the characters, who might appear a bit nutty at times, actually bear substance and three-dimension personalities. The richness of the characters makes the fast-paced, somewhat disjointed plot all the more entertaining.
Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward deliver excellent performances as a young couple of pre-teenagers who, like Romeo and Juliet, come from very different backgrounds but will face adversity come what may. Jared is seduced by Kara’s mesmerising beauty and courage. Her attire and equipment are completely unfit for purpose but somehow her mascara never runs, her chic pink outfit never stains, and she never complains about having to carry about her unwieldy baggage. Kara likes the boy’s boldness and determination, as each challenge they come across is patiently assessed and addressed – as though looking up a solution in the Junior Woodchuck’s Handbook. Their love is unconditional, and won’t be deflated by inconsiderate grown-ups.
In a twist of farcical events, Sam’s fellow Khaki scouts shift from being enemies to allies – and seem to illustrate the fickleness of mass opinion and the dangers of military authority. They embrace their mission with a very grown-up sense of responsibility and loyalty, in total opposition to the adult characters’ helplessness. Each of them is the sweet and sour representation of a flaw or vice of adult life: Edward Norton plays a very keen Scout Master Randy Ward but is simply incapable of making a meaningful decision; Bruce Willis plays kind-hearted local sheriff Captain Sharp but is too quick to admit his personal shortcomings and lack of ambition; Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s parents are so engrossed in their lawyer careers they can hardly notice or care for each other’s depression or infidelities. It takes the visit of ‘Social Services’, embodied by a truly imposing and fairy-tale like Tilda Swinton to set the records straight – and get the adults to act like grown-ups!
From the choice of music (Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of Animals, with a dash of Françoise Hardy), preferably played on children’s record player, to the careful work on drawings and children’s book covers shown in the film, Anderson’s new proposition is faithful to the director’s nostalgic fondness for the pre-digital era. However innocuous and polished his idealised Americana might seem, it also largely demonstrates its flaws through hysterical and absurd situations. Though he might seem a tad cruel to his adult characters at times, Anderson never patronises the children and brilliantly captures a 12-year-old’s mind with his hopes, fantasies and boundless imagination.
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is a true gem indeed.
Have you seen Moonrise Kingdom? What did you think of it? Feel free to leave a comment!