Not every film is accessible to every person. Sometimes this is because of ingrained gender values or extremities in the presentation, other times it’s just down to directorial style. Wes Anderson encapsulates that as much as any director. His deadpan, twee and quirky styling’s are very much in the beholder’s eye. For his many detractors this signals bad news as his new film, Moonrise Kingdom, is his most Andersonian effort since The Life Aquatic. Conversely, for fans of his work, this is fantastic news.
Taking place on the small island of New Penzance off the coast of New England in 1965, Moonrise Kingdom sees the effect that two runaways have on the small community, whether it’s the local police officer, Bruce Willis, head of the Khaki scouts and Americana icon Ed Norton, a brilliantly sad lawyer couple played by Anderson regular Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, or the wonderfully cast Tilda Swinton as the authoritative “Social Services.”
The cast is undeniably stellar and delivers per expectations, but Moonrise remains the story of the two young runaways and social outcasts, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). Anderson has worked with material centric to children before with his Roald Dahl adaptation, The Fantastic Mr Fox, but unfortunately that film was problematic. With Moonrise Kingdom, he has made a film that celebrates those never-ending summer holidays and their adventures.
As brilliant as they are, the two young actors have that Andersonian quality of deadpan delivery which in many actors is easy to construe as bored or distracted. These two young actors are anything but. They manage to be likeable presences despite their affectations; they have as much of a positive effect on the islanders as a negative one. That genial quality makes it very easy to spend time with these flawed characters, and it gives the film a timeless feel away from the darkness, cynicism and violence of the contemporary cinematic landscape. Moonrise Kingdom would make a brilliant triple bill alongside Submarine and Son of Rambow.
Impressively, the film boasts the most magnificently framed introduction of 2012. Opening with narration on the geography of New Penzance by Bob Balaban, the film opens with two establishing tracking shots. The first is of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand’s house. Panning along corridors, down stairs, showing each member of this dysfunctional family in one seamless shot, it’s difficult not to be captivated by a well done tracking shot. The second is the better of the two, Ed Norton walks along Camp Ivanhoe (base of the Khaki Scouts) with each member doing something colourful, funny and with an eccentric set design, all leading to Shakusky’s tent where he “flew the co0p.”
The set design is equally impressive throughout, with houses you’ve never seen before in a typically vivid colour palette, and the khaki camp presented as a heady mix of wood structures and eccentric additions. With production design by Adam Stockhausen and cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman, the only word that fittingly describes Moonrise Kingdom is “gorgeous.”
The soundtrack is a wonderful mix of 1960s pop, arrangements by in-demand composer Alexander Desplat, and classical works. Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Opera” is a key inclusion, not only for its stylisation but in the way it draws parallels with the story; in Britten’s piece, instruments fall away one by one, only to return and reconstruct the whole.
That is echoed in the effect that Sam and Suzy have on everyone around them. At first, the island falls into chaos with the incompetence of Willis and Norton coming into focus, and the brilliantly deadpan Murray throwing both his shoes and eminently quotable insults (“beige maniacs!”). In the scenes where Sam and Suzy are spending time together you get to see the dynamics of the two outsider’s relationship, what they mean to each other and the people that they are. Spending time with this growing relationship it’s easy to become invested and given the direction the final act goes in, it makes for some genuinely heart-warming and funny moments.
From the perspective of a Wes Anderson fan, Moonrise Kingdom makes his triptych of classics (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic) into a foursome. With its beautiful visuals, warm and honest script and a genuine sense of what family entertainment can be, Anderson has struck gold once again. His latest film demands to be seen by anyone with even a passing interest.