Moonrise Kingdom is set in 1965 in a small town just off Rhode Island and follows Sam and Suzy – a couple of love-struck kids who have run away to spend their lives together in a world of their own, away from the adults. It is not long before Sam’s whole scout troop, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and alarmingly armed to the teeth, are in hot pursuit, along with various groups from around the island.
As with all of Wes Anderson’s films, this relatively simple tale of young love takes place in a world that is a bit ‘off’ from reality. In the opening sequence the camera spins and slides to small shots of people living in a house, peering into each room and hallway of what is clearly supposed to be seen as a dollhouse. This whole scene plays to a deconstructed, then reconstructed, piece of orchestral music, as we see the family going about their daily lives.
The entire film plays out in this ‘dollhouse’ style – with ridged square frames holding even the beautifully shot outdoor scenes in place. Thankfully we are allowed to do more than simply observe the characters through tiny windows. The ever-present air of emotional detachment in Anderson’s dialogue actually works very well for the awkward-almost-teenage-romance between Sam and Suzy, around whom the film centres. By distancing the dialogue from what we expect from an on-screen couple of kids, Anderson has created something both sweet and familiar – with sufficient wit and weirdness to prevent it from becoming too clichéd or sentimental.
Moonrise Kingdom boasts an extremely impressive cast, and one that, for the most part has been very well handled by the director. Obviously Gilman and Hayward had to be good as Sam and Sally in order for the film to be at all watchable. Aside from them, a standout performance was given from Edward Norton as the chain-smoking man-child scout master (by far the LEAST scary member of the scouts – a tribe of boys-come-pseudo gentleman’s club.)
Bruce Willis has, for the first time in years, NOT shaved his head for his role, playing against type as a weary old, wispy haired town cop. OK, perhaps not too much of a stretch for Willis, but it’s nice to be reminded that Willis is capable of acting as more than just an action hero.
Tilda Swinton does her brilliantly icy Tilda Swinton thing as a character simply named Social Services; a ruthless bureaucrat looking to take Sam into custody. Unfortunately Bill Murray and Frances McDormand aren’t given a lot of screen time as the Suzy’s exhausted parents, simply due to the way the story plays out. What we see of Murray’s porridge-faced grouchiness however is always a joy to see.
Anderson was perhaps slightly over-indulgent with the style, treading the fine line between quirky and annoying with occasional narration from an old man, to add a storybook feel to an already storybook film. The tone was sufficiently provided for by Desplat’s enchanting score. The old man tells us a storm is coming, but this is already kind of said with the ominous school production of Noah’s
Flood that takes place at the town church. Fans of Anderson will no doubt revel in all this film has to offer. As for the rest, this is a well-made film with an excellent cast that is worth looking for a screening of; bafflingly Moonrise Kingdom has had a rather limited release in the UK. Despite appearances, this is not just another in a long line of kooky indie films.
By Joshua Giltrap