Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Director: Wes Anderson

****

The opening shot of Moonrise Kingdom is of a wall with a picture of a house mounted on it; we then travel around this cosy yet well-appointed two-storey and are introduced to its inhabitants in a series of camera pans and long dolly shots. Why yes, Wes Anderson IS the director. How’d you guess?

Few directors can inspire such strong responses in both his admirers and detractors as Wes Anderson. His critics see his repetitive camera moves and offbeat plots as being overly quirky with little going on underneath. His adherents will bask in the warmth of the storytelling, the minor insanities of his characters and his clear love of the French New Wave. Moonrise Kingdom will do absolutely zilch to convince his critics otherwise, but why change now? His last feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, saw Anderson apply his trademarks to the stop-motion animation process. With its abundance of beiges and determined lack of swearing, Moonrise Kingdom feels like a cartoon made flesh. Imagine if Russell from Up were a few years older, was put on Ritalin and had earned all his merit badges, and you’d get Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). An orphaned boy scout, he goes on the run from his island scout camp with local lass/pen pal/soulmate Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). In their debut film roles, their underplayed delivery is perfect, since no-one except Bill Murray ever knowingly overreacts in a Wes Anderson film.

Murray plays the father to Hayward’s young tearaway, and is just one of a number of folks searching for the star-crossed non-lovers (They’re only 12, after all, though they do share one of the most hilariously awkward kissing scenes to come along in quite a while). Also looking for them are Mrs. Bishop (Frances McDormand), the local police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and his ever-prepared troop. The adult actors clearly relish the chance to send up their images (Willis and Norton are a long way from Die Hard and Fight Club here), whilst the children are all utterly engaging, brimming with scary levels of confidence. A cartography-inclined narrator, played by a bearded Bob Balaban, is the icing on a sweet little cake. Seriously, you’ll want to pop him in your pocket and take him home as a pet.

Anderson and Roman Coppola’s script imagines a sweet little island haven in 1965 that borders on the twee (No roads, only dirt-tracks, switchboard communication) but has such an attention to detail that you just can’t help but fall for it. It may see Anderson at his most Anderson-esque, but Moonrise Kingdom’s simple story of young love also sees Anderson at his warmest and most accessible. If you do have a prejudice against the overhead shots and samples of ‘60s French pop, your loss.

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