Moonrise Kingdom - movie review

Summer lovin’ just got a whole more stylish thanks to Wes Anderson. Following up his aching adorable stop-motion extravaganza Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson returns to live action - or his hyper-designed version of it – with a jauntily off-kilter story of young love.

It’s 1965 and in the fictional New England, USA town of Summer’s End there are escape plans afoot. Resourceful Khaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) is smitten with the prematurely somber Suzy (Kara Hayward), and after a sparse yet enthusiastic correspondence, the two young misfits decide to run away together. The only trouble is, there isn’t an awful lot to flee to on Summer’s End; so before long Sam’s Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) marshals a search party, and his eager recruits seem more than prepared to go all Lord of the Flies on the runaways. Meanwhile, Suzy’s calmly dysfunctional parents Laura and Walt (Frances McDormand and Wes Anderson requirement Bill Murray) call in Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and a stylishly bedecked Social Services employee (Tilda Swinton) intrudes to add a extra dose of bureaucracy to proceedings.

This seemingly sweet and simple story proves the perfect vehicle for Anderson to display in his telltale visual cues, which include a warm-hued pallet of oranges and yellows, and intricately designed tableaus captured in stunning symmetrical framing. In fact, Anderson’s signature style and storytelling ticks are so recognisable that watching Moonrise Kingdom is at times more akin to appreciating a remarkable piece of art than it is an absorbing cinematic story. The aesthetics are so dominant (and so delightful), that they threaten to flood the story – even, in this case, when the story includes a flood!

Aesthete Anderson is often criticised for choosing style over emotional substance, and if you’re someone who feels held at arm’s length (or worse still, irritated) by Anderson’s idiosyncrasies, then Moonrise Kingdom may ultimately ring hollow. But for others there will be moments that pack a stealthy punch. Let me just say Frances McDormand and Bill Murray should always be unhappily married; they capture it so perfectly.

The rest of the film’s emotional stakes are rather precariously balanced on the young shoulders of Gilman and Hayward. So while both rise to the challenge of enacting Anderson’s rapid-fire, deadpan delivery, it’s such an affected state that they sometimes struggle to deliver real feeling with their lines. Hayward fares a little better as the potentially pre-pathological Suzy, as she and McDormand share some resonant scenes together. Gilman in turn seems to be cut from the same cloth as Rushmore’s Max Fisher, and is ably eccentric, if a little too halting.

The rest of the cast is a pure pleasure to watch. Willis and Norton are inspired inclusions into the Anderson ensemble, while McDormand and Swinton are no brainers. You wonder what has taken him so long! (A quick cinematic digression: Wes Anderson should collaborate with the Coen Brothers…discuss?).

Off camera, composer Alexandre Desplat twills and thrills with another essential soundtrack, though this time he must play second fiddle to chief musical inspiration, 1900s composer Benjamin Britten and his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It seems Anderson wishes to school us in music as well as cinematic composition.

And I for one say: bring it on, Wes! Moonrise Kingdom is a marvelous addition to your fiefdom.

Alice Tynan

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