By this, his seventh feature length film, director Wes Anderson’s unique style and reputation precede itself. It would be fair to say that the majority of movie goers who take on his latest journey have some idea of what to expect, and indeed, want more of the same. This doesn’t mean the man can’t surprise, grow and develop new ideas into his work however, as Anderson is as creative a filmmaker as one can be, and with Moonrise Kingdom, he has given us something that’s possibly even more unique than it was already going to be.
Though the term ‘quirk’ aptly describes the man’s movies, it is hard to just let that one expression umbrella his whole style and filmography. It is quirk taken to the utmost degree after all. Something that not everybody cares for but I don’t believe saying you either love or hate his films is totally accurate. All the visual bells and whistles that accompany them (and nobody has such a distinct hold of their own style as much as Anderson) merely just comes down to taste. Moonrise Kingdom is essentially a love story. Between several characters ultimately, but the focus is on Sam and Suzy, two twelve year olds dissatisfied, depressed and angry about their position in life. A chance meeting at a local play sets them off on an adventure and a relationship that will involve humour, violence – but most all – camping. In pursuit of the love struck pre-teens is a mini mob of typically eclectic characters (adults and children) you’d come to expect from an Anderson universe.
Set in 1965 on the self-contained New England Island, New Penzance, the locals who form the pursuit are made up of a lone policeman Captain (Bruce Willis), eccentric Khaki Scout Leaders (Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman) and their determined band of boys, Suzy’s troubled attorney parents (Bill Murray & Frances McDormand) and eventually, an intimidating social services matriarch determined to return Sam to an orphanage (Tilda Swinton). In the background of the chase is the looming violent storm set to hit New Penzance, information of this provided by our (almost) narrator and scientist, played by familiar face Bob Balaban. To say much more would be giving away too much plot, but as always Anderson draws his characters with humour, melancholy and individual nuances that bring them to life unlike any other director working today. Helped by intricate scripting usually written by the director and one other collaborator (in this case it was his Darjeeling Limited co-scribe, Roman Coppola), the enjoyment comes from simply watching these people muddle their way through his world as much as seeing the story unfold. Kingdom is no exception and while themes of Noah’s Ark and young love are new elements in this particular film, echoes of Rushmore and The Royal Tenebaums are present. To reaffirm though, the director’s maturity and control of his own precise visual and literary style has definitely improved again, as it seems to always do with each new project.
Besides screenplay collaborators, Wes always likes to keep his favourite actors close whilst still enlisting new faces, no doubt all keen to partake in one of the man’s unique “dramadies”. Kingdom marks the sixth appearance by Bill Murray and the forth for Jason Schwartzman in one of his films for example and both unsurprisingly blend into the environment effortlessly with Murray as usual walking the line between humour and downhearted perfectly. It is some of the new faces however, that appear to impress the most. Both Ed Norton and Bruce Willis – two actors I always thought WOULDN’T blend in too well – are excellent. Willis in particular brings a surprising amount of depth to his dejected Police Captain Sharp. For a ninety minute running time too, one of the best achievements of the film is allowing practically everyone enough screen time to not only further along the story, but each to have a satisfying arc by the time the fantastic credit sequence rolls. The two stars of the show however, are indeed, the two stars. Jared Gilman as Sam and Kara Hayward as Suzy shine as the young runaways. Anderson and Coppola achieve realistic awkwardness and loneliness (of youth) wonderfully. Both are first time performers.
Feeling like his most independent movie since Rushmore (made on a mere 16 million budget – even more amazing given the level of acting talent recruited), Moonrise Kingdom is a small, lovely film for Anderson which keeps intact his trademark humour-emotion meld with the focus more on the latter than anything he has done before. Some belly laughs are present of course, but the tragedy and joy of relationships is explored somewhat more solemnly than usual here. For the avid film buff, there are also several homages to spot along the way. So while on the surface the film feels more like a companion piece to the early efforts of the director, a little deeper in it reveals itself to offer something new for fans. It took me about twenty minutes to fully adapt to this familiar but very fresh environment, but once I did, I started to feel this will prove to be one of the director’s most accomplished efforts.