Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand
Running time: 94 mins
Release: May 25th
A filmmaker like Wes Anderson is in a tough position. His visual style and direction is so well-known that for him to try something different would be akin to committing career suicide. He has built up a reputation for making quirky films with colour-drenched scenes and razor-sharp dialogue. Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t break the mould in terms of his previous work. And yet, it is by far his most accessible film to date.
The story takes place in the summer of 1965 on New Penzance Island, off the coast of New England. Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hyward) are two odd children who decide to run away together. Their plan is to retrace the steps of the local Native American migration. Sam’s scoutmaster, Randy Ward (Ed Norton), takes his troop out to locate the runaways – along with the help of local police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
Wes Anderson has crafted a touching film that isn’t bogged down by the usual overbearing dialogue that plagues his other work. The film’s strength lies in both the chemistry between the two runaways and their story. While it’s innocent and eccentric, the storyline is based more in reality than other films Anderson has made. This doesn’t detract from that other-worldly qualities that are his trademark; it simply means that their story is easier to relate to. Where the runaways’ story is centred around first love, the relationship between Murray and McDormand is strained and reserved. However, the film cleverly eschews delving into it. Theirs is shown through the children’s eyes, and as such, the true state of their marriage is kept suppressed from Suzy. As well, Sam’s home-life is only brought up later in the film as it doesn’t factor in until it is needed. Anderson’s use of the supporting cast is inspired. No extra screen-time is given to Murray, Norton or Willis needlessly. The film’s central focus is on the runaways and their adventure together – not the search parties that are looking for them.
Moonrise Kingdom is a gentle, heartfelt film that never feels anything but sincere. Willis gives a fantastic performance as the good-natured policeman who only wants to help Sam. Likewise, Norton excels as the earnest scoutmaster, all salutes and quick-smart marching. Bill Murray is admittedly underused, as is Frances McDormand. However, a scene featuring the two of them is particularly emotional when, exasperated, the two come face-to-face with the reality that they’re failing as parents.
It’s true, Wes Anderson is working with familiar material here. The film also has certain echoes of Lord of the Flies and Roald Dahl tales. However Anderson has put his unique stamp on a timeless story that is sure to win over his fans – and may win him some new ones as well.