Wes Anderson has carved out a visual style every bit as distinctive as Tim Burton’s or David Lynch’s, creating richly textured, dreamlike worlds populated by sad, funny, dysfunctional people.
Moonrise Kingdom is a surreal tale of childhood angst, longing and adventure. Twelve-year-old loner Sam goes on the run from his Boy Scout troupe to meet up with a girl who he saw playing a raven in a church production of Noah’s Flood. The girl is a heavily made-up, morose little thing called Suzy, who carries around her parent’s copy of a self-help manual on how to deal with your dysfunctional child. They have issues.
It combines the slightly clanky, home-made feel of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with the razor-sharp characterisation of The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson’s command of his set is unparalleled – every prop, every face, every costume, right down to the individual badges on the Boy Scout uniforms, screams “I’m in a Wes Anderson movie!”. On paper, this amount of quirkiness sounds unbearable, but scenes that would be trite and contrived in lesser hands can be incredibly funny or impossibly sad.
The grainy stock and vivid colours are stunning, giving Moonrise Kingdom a far-away, dream-like feel. It is also packed-to-bursting with talent; Bruce Willis plays an earnest but doleful island cop; Edward Norton an earnest but out of his depth Scout master; McDormand an earnest but weary parent (there is a lot of earnestness). Excellent cameos from Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton add a little edge to the proceedings but it is, for the most part, a film without villains, where the biggest and toughest obstacles are the characters own insecurities.
Tim Burton’s last film, Dark Shadows, showed that sticking to the same formula eventually loses its appeal, no matter how good that formula might be. But while Moonrise Kingdom is set very much within Anderson’s distinctive mental terrain, it still feels fresh and alive. Two and a third years will be a long time to wait until the next one.
First published in City A.M.