By David Mayne
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban
There are some directors out there who, no matter what they do, seem to shine and get their vision through to the audience with flying colors. Wes Anderson is one of them, and with his latest, stylistically deadpan Technicolor masterpiece, we are once again treated to a visual, musical, and thematic hour-and-a-half escape – complete with the usual host of flawed characters and poignant messages.
The year is 1965. Two pre-teen, star-crossed lovers decide to escape their families and meet each other in the wilderness, to live a life (or a week) of carefree exploration, friendship, and self-discovery. What they don’t realize is that the better part of the small island, known as New Penzance, will be turned upside down as everyone from their parents, their friends, the police, and the local Scout Master turn to a frantic search for the young couple. What ensues is a series of nostalgic set pieces, diligent acting from an Anderson-signature encore casting dream-come-true, and heartwarming performances from newcomer leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.
If you are any sort of Wes Anderson “fan”, you need read no further, as everything that has carried you to this point (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and of course, Bottle Rocket) will, suffice to say, be plenty to guarantee your enjoyment of Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson has the masterful and downright uncanny ability to make films that strike deep nostalgic and personal chords into those that follow his work, as well as an artist’s graceful paintbrush to make visually appealing, emotionally inducing cinematic works of art. To the uninitiated, a Wes Anderson film is best described as such: deeply flawed, yet meaningful character development pieces, interwoven with colorful and sometimes protagonistic supporting characters, all blended seamlessly into an artistically retro, yet incredibly familiar environment; one we can all eerily relate to in one way or another. The ability to put these sometimes odd-bedfellowed themes and characters together with the resulting success that Anderson seems to pull off so easily, is nothing short of true film making genius, not to mention an amazing look into a director deeply in love with the craft of making quality and endearing movies that will be watched a century from now.
With a cast comprised of Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, and Harvey Keitel (to name a few), Moonrise Kingdom sets itself up to be the proverbial Anderson-esque powder keg that fuels his directing vision. One even gets the feeling that with such talent as those mentioned above, this film might have directed itself, with Wes at the helm, steering this mighty juggernaut true on it’s intended course.
Introducing Jared Gilman as Sam Shakusky, and Kara Hayward as Suzy Bishop, Moonrise Kingdom had its work cut out for itself with such wonderful young leads. The focus on these two lovers, and their subsequent “journey” around New Penzance is one of magical and whimsical familiarity that we as the viewers can easily connect to. The innocent and heartfelt awkwardness that pervades 12-year old’s Sam and Suzy’s relationship is best described as a brilliantly portrayed coming-of-age piece, without running overly cliché for its own good. Anderson manages to convey the brilliance of adolescent self-discovery in way that, when intended, you squirm when the characters squirm, laugh when they laugh, and genuinely feel their disappointment when needed. Is it possible that the audience itself is the physical target of Moonrise Kingdom? The theater was a never-ending series of muffled giggles, sincere reactions, and pleased contentment for a film that was managing to reach out and engage the audience into its eccentric sensibilities without being overly self-absorbed or predictable.
Every moment of Moonrise Kingdom was a pleasure to watch. From Edward Norton’s tough but well-meaning Scout Master Ward character, Bruce Willis as the washed-up and disjointed, yet sage-like Captain Sharp, and Bill Murray being…well, Bill Murray; the film is full of meaningful people who you actually want to watch. You feel connected and concerned; you want these characters to succeed. The quick cameos by Anderson-veteran Jason Schwartzman, and Tarantino favorite Harvey Keitel, are perfectly placed fan-service, with deliberate type-cast performances by both.
From the slow-motion musical interludes to the pastel retro simplicity that Anderson seems to soak up and drizzle all over his films, long time fans and newcomers alike will find something to love in Moonrise Kingdom. Whether it’s the relatable characters, brilliant artistic flair, beautiful score (with some Hank Williams Sr. thrown in), or simply the overall calm that his films somehow wave over the viewer like a skilled magician, Wes Anderson has crafted himself another enduring volume to add to his life’s work. Well done Moonrise Kingdom, well done!
5 out of 5