Surely the mark of true creativity rests in part with the ability to take the trivial and transform it into something unexpected.
For a director with such consistent, even iconic, techniques and themes (a love of pastels, precocious children, jaded adults and deliberately stilted linguistics amongst them), Wes Anderson manages to craft something utterly unique with each of his films. His latest, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, proudly flaunts all of his favourite elements – but unlike ‘Bottle Rocket’, ‘Rushmore’, ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, ‘The Life Aquatic’, ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ or his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’, Moonrise Kingdom feels far more intimate. A small, simple tale painted large by one of cinema’s most consistent, original and delicate creators.
Set in 1965 in New England, the small island community of New Penzance is put on alert after 12 year-old Sam Shakusky runs away from his Khaki Scout summer camp. His accomplice and target of his affection is Suzy Bishop – dark-eyed outcast in a rocky family unit. As they’re pursued by scouts, authorities and Social Services, Anderson pulls together one of his tightest narratives with a terrific ending.
Anderson has a knack for casting his roles well. Moonrise Kingdom retains a few staple actors who’ve appeared in most of his past films: performers Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman (for the first time, no Owen Wilson) as well as Anderson’s regular creative collaborators Roman Coppola and Mark Mothersbaugh.
Then there are a couple of surprises. In the lead role of Sam, Jared Gilman shines. He’s a classically Anderson-esque lead; too worldly for his age, too strange for his peers. It’s clear that Gilman comes from that same school of Schwartzman-like dry wit and Anderson brings out a great performance.
Playing opposite as Suzy, Kara Hayward is another hidden gem. She channels a younger version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums, maybe; heavy on the eyeliner and every bit the disaffected and alienated lead that Anderson is so fond of. Coupling Gilman and Hayward in some gorgeously filmed sequences, it’s hard not to fall in love with the pair.
Bruce Willis, who I’ve always maintained is a great actor when under the right kind of direction, proves this as the town’s sole police officer. Played warmly with an even hand and just enough humour, Willis does a great job here. I’d watch Bruce take on more darkly humorous roles like this—he puts in his best work with access to this kind of material.
Frances McDormand, I swear, has never delivered a dud line in her professional life.
It’s Edward Norton, however, who steals the movie. Norton delivers a standout performance as Scout Master Randy Ward. Like all of the characters in Moonrise Kingdom, it’s a deceptively simple part – a put-upon adult figure who struggles to keep control of his troop. But Norton brings a vulnerability and eventually strength to his character that I haven’t seen since his Fight Club days. He’s amazing here.
The soundtrack, always something to look forward to in a Wes Anderson film, combines regular collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh with a heavier emphasis on classical compositions and Hank Williams. Not a bad combination – and absolutely suited to the mood of the scenes he chooses to set them against. It’s not a toe-tapping listing of Bowie and Kinks, but as with the rest of Moonlight Kingdom, it is utterly its own thing; a unique score in every sense.
There’s already Oscars buzz surrounding Moonlight Kingdom—and for once, it’s not just ‘ego-fellatio’ from over-excited writers. Even if you were to take Moonrise Kingdom to point over a few stilted lines from the amateur camp kids’ performances, or call the simplistic structure too predictable, how Wes Anderson stitches it all together is far beyond the reach of most filmmakers. His approach is artful without pretension, gorgeous and composed without feeling forced, charming and innocent but never trite.
It’s not that it’s a profound film per se, but there’s something more to Moonrise Kingdom than simply a coming-of-age movie. It’s freeing. Kind of like being given permission to get back to that place inside all of us that still channels a thread of childhood wonder; a worldview where good is good and bad is bad – and bad things might happen to good people – but things will always work themselves out for the best.
I walked out of Moorise Kingdom on a high. I felt better about humanity after watching it. That could only be a good sign, right?