There are certain words it’s hard to avoid when reviewing a Wes Anderson movie, such as quirky, eccentric and whimsical. It’s just hard not to use them when he insists on making films that are so gosh darn quirky, eccentric and whimsical. With Moonrise Kingdom though, he may harness his usual bag of tricks and deliver a film in his trademark auteur style, but there’s a tremendous tenderness and sincerity in the film’s narrative that, for me, sets it up there with the very best of his output.
Set on a picturesque New England island in 1965, the story focuses on awkward first love and a childhood lust for adventure. Our two central star-crossed lovers are bespectacled orphan and accomplished Khaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) and steely-eye problem child Suzy (Kara Hayward). After exchanging a series of love letters, the two plan to run away together and leave their problems behind them. When they put their plan into action, it forces various adults on the Island to lead a search party including full time Scout master and part-time maths teacher Randy (Ed Norton), Suzy’s unhappy parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) and lonely local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). The race is then on to bring the kids home safely as a storm heads ominously towards the Island.
The whole movie is set in a typically Wes Anderson world with bright colours everywhere, homes built like doll houses and every shot framed and composed very deliberately by the director. As is often the case with the director’s movies, the attention to background detail is a joy to behold.
The whole cast is incredibly strong, from Anderson newcomers like Norton and Willis who both have a great time playing their roles as sad-sack authority figures, to old hands like the typically hang-dog and world weary Murray (“I’ll be out back. I’m gonna find a tree to chop down.”) What’s more, the child actors at the film’s centre, not just Sam and Suzy, but the rest of the Khaki Scouts too, are all excellent and seem to truly understand the aesthetic Anderson is going for.
There are certainly elements in there which have cropped up in the director’s work before, with dysfunctional families and precocious youngsters being among some of his greatest hits. Yet in Moonrise Kingdom it all seems to come together for him better than it has in years. The movie possesses plenty of heartfelt and touching drama as well as some especially funny sight gags and a wonderfully witty script. Added to this is a note-perfect soundtrack anchored by Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra which, as with all Anderson films, compliments the visuals perfectly.
Moonrise is a captivating film about the innocence and determination of young lovers and the fragility and weariness of adult ones. It’s Anderson at his very, very best.