With Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has made a film about youth that feels like it was ripped from the overactive imagination of a 12-year-old.
If you’ve ever wondered why Boy Scouts wear neck scarves, then Wes Anderson finally has your answer. It’s to dry the tears of the depressed 12-year-old you’ve whisked out into the woodlands of rural Maine, circa 1965. This is after you have just accidentally sniggered as she admitted her sorrow at being seen as a problem child by her parents.
Moonrise Kingdom plants us directly in the high capital of Wes World right from its gorgeous opening shot in which his camera waltzes through a sparsely furnished house while monitoring two lazing parents and a trio of nippers listening intently to a record of Benjamin Britten’s 'Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra'. It’s a scene in which eccentricity, curiosity and a lingering disappointment are captured succinctly and with wry sophistication.
Anderson’s purported MO with Moonrise Kingdom was to capture the ecstasy and awkwardness of first love, and he shoots for that goal without skimping on any of the directorial traits that made him the man he is today. Following a bizarre meet cute in a church hall production of Noah’s Flood, Sam (Jared Gilman), a taciturn, bespectacled orphan and Khaki Scout, starts sharing confessional love letters with Suzy (Kara Hayward), the troubled eldest daughter of Walt Bishop (Bill Murray) and his bullhorn-wielding wife, Laura (Frances McDormand), who is in turn having an affair with local policeman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis).
All the characters feel like they’re either older or younger versions of Anderson’s past creations: Murray retools that straight-from-the-golf-course-bar turn he perfected in Rushmore; the kids all feel like Tenenbaum juniors; while a film-stealing Bob Balaban pops up as a Steve Zisou-like chorus.
Primarily, this is a film to be savoured for it’s hyper-ornate visual schemes: each one more splendid and breathtaking than the previous. Anderson’s almost fascistic control of detail within the frame would have you believe that he’s barking orders at leaves, stones, fog and water from behind the camera.
Jacques Tati comes to mind at several points, not least due to the feeling that you’ll need to watch the film over and over to be able to unlock the jokes occurring in the background of each scene – these include a Native American wearing a plastic rain guard over his feathered headdress, Edward Norton’s scoutmaster, Randy, flicking through the pages of Indian Corn magazine, and multiple references to an orange drink called Tang.
Occasionally, you feel that the young lovers don’t quite get what Anderson is striving for, and it sounds like they’re fumbling through lines which they don’t feel. There’s even a portion of the film, about two-thirds in, where Anderson appears to lose control of the reins and most of the cast are reduced – in homage to Benny Hill? – to running around in a field.
Yet with Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has made a film about youth that feels like it was ripped from the overactive imagination of a 12-year-old. It’s like a Prairie Home Companion version of Romeo and Juliet as made by a raffish aesthete.
But the biggest coup here is that Anderson has finally managed to anchor his trademark whimsy with a sincere and heady romanticism, and by the end, you may even be reaching for your immaculately embroidered handkerchief (or neck scarf) to wipe away the tears.
Only the hardest of hearts would bemoan another trip into the mind of Wes Anderson.
Very funny and very sweet, but also – and this one has often eluded Anderson – sincere also.
Repeat viewings are essential, just to soak up all the amazing background detail.