Wes Anderson films aren’t for everyone as he’s definitley an acquired taste. However, those that get his films, kind of like David Cronenberg (only way more accessible), really dig his work. Regardless of whether you are a fan of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore or The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson, with help from co-writer Roman Coppola, crafts an adorable and endearing film about young lovers who cast off the rules and opinions of others. This story is almost an on-screen representation of just who Anderson is. As a film maker, he does what he wants, how he wants it and most times the stories are better for it. So too are the young characters who are ultimately the better for their making similar decisions.
Moonrise Kingdom is a cute little story about two adolescent lovers who flee their New England town. But their newly kindled infatuation, justifiably, raises concerns and causes a search party, as you might suspect is a rather quirky bunch, that includes wilderness scouts, local police, parents and a social service agent to fan out and find them. Set against a backdrop of an impending storm they group must find the kids before the storm hits the small island coast. The entire film is like a moving photo album, replete with narration that is just as odd-ball as the events being told. Anderson uses scores of vignettes to tell his tale and in a way this can be seen as the live-action extrapolation of everything he learned by making The Fantastic Mr. Fox making is a feast for the eyes ans the heart.
The cast is a brilliant mix of dramatic actors who deliver their lines in a comically droll manner. Their dead pan matter-of-fact deliveries are sure to leave viewers in stitches as it’s all about timing, simplicity and subtlety. Mostly void of drama, even employing a ghee whiz Normal Rockwell attitude at times, it’s incredibly funny getting extremely dry delivery from Bruce Willis and Bill Murray. What takes Moonrise Kingdom this from good to great is the acting. Not from the ensemble cast, but more the youngsters as Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward shine as the ceaseless romantics. Once Moonrise gets rolling, the film gets the distinction of having the best child acting since Super 8. The leads and the other kids are allowed to make the lines their own and different from their older co-stars, they don’t just help carry the film, they are the film. Their acting is genuine and, thankfully, free of pretentiousness. You couldn’t ask for more in a film, Wes Anderson or otherwise.
With Anderson, it’s not just the story that’s important to him, but more the scene composition. With the great actors already in place, he gets to focus on his style of shooting and takes great pride in the framing. The already beautiful sets are enhanced by the nostalgic nature/tone he adds of the film (especially on 35 mm). Atmosphere is more that an element in an Anderson film, it’s nearly a character. While Moonrise Kingdom’s simple setting and style of shooting comes across like a perfect vehicle for stage acting, this coming-of-age drama stretches its legs as it takes great use of the depth allowed by shooting on location. Similarly anything that’s on-stage doesn’t feel cramped or manufactured. Further it’s made all the more enjoyable as indoor locations showcase meticulously detailed set design. It’s clear that Anderson likes to see things happen, both indoor and out, as each scene plays like a living diorama. Close up shots aren’t often used and he mostly employs wide angle shots which allows us to take in all the deliciously simple cinematography and set design. Also it adds to the quirky tone of the film that has characters either oddly enter or leave the frame.
At the very heart is a very cute and quirky love story that takes on an almost Shakespearean life-force. Young love, against all odds taking the path that they want regardless of how anyone else views them. Although, as it’s about two runaway children, the youngsters face opposition from nearly everyone they encounter in this coming-of-age love story. It’s almost laughable that everyone from the police to parents to the Khaki Scouts tries to separate the two. What makes Sam and Suzy so right for each other is that they come together simply because no one else gets them. Isn’t that what first loves are all about anyway? It makes you wonder if Wes Anderson is a romantic or possibly just telling us an exaggerated tale from his (or possibly Roman Coppola’s) youth. Either way, Sam and Suzy become entirely endearing throughout their ordeal.
From the subtle but wacky characters, the eclectic mix it an odd fit but it all works. From Moonrise’s version of the Boy Scouts (called “Khaki Scouts”) to people having names as banal as “Social Services”, Anderson makes the most foreign looking throwback American film you’ll likely see. Again it’s all about detail with Anderson. Case in point, you may think that a group of boy scouts would look the same, well with enough variations in both tan tones and small badges, hats, scarfs, all of the Khaki scouts are distinguishable enough to tell them apart. Then there’s the added bonus of the little jokes (like on scout being a “Judo Expert”) thrown in to please eagle eyes viewers. It quite reminiscent of how Akira Kurosawa handled large casts as he would, even in black and white, keep the oodles of samurai from not to blend in to one nebulous blob of fabric and swords.
Beyond story and great visuals, sight gags are Anderson’s calling card. Similar to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the there is so much going on in the background it’s tough to keep an eye on the foreground because you’ll most certainly miss a joke or clever Easter egg in the background. For instance, while you’re trying to keep watch on Jason Schwartzman or Harvey Keitel, there’s a circus of events going on behind them. It might not be funny to see a tracking shot in the Khaki Scout camp but just wait and because out of nowhere comes a kid on a zip-line, or Bill Murray simply taking a seat on a child’s motor bike that just cracks you up. Moonrise Kingdom is a witty, charming and delightful film with all the comfort of a fireside blanket. Wes Anderson out does himself in this quirky but endearing coming-of-age film as he slyly he puts a smile on your face that stays with you all the way through.