Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson's latest quirky masterpiece is set in 1965 on a small island off the coast of New England. A young orphan scout named Sam, and a strange, isolated girl named Suzy fall in love and deside to run away together. Their trip across the island causes havoc in the small community; Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy's lawyer parents Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), as well as the rest of Sam's scouting troop, all get involved in the search with hilarious, disastrous and delightful consequences.

As always with Wes Anderson films (other examples include The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited) what is actually happening in the film takes a massive backseat to how it is happening, and what it looks like. While making sure that the mise en scene is recognisably 'sixties', Anderson has also given everything an incredibly clean-cut, stylised and almost cartoonish aesthetic. The central position of the camera in relation to objects often gives scenes a surreal symmetry that is both jarring and pleasing to the human eye; we are unused to seeing such balance of proportion, and yet it carries a certain visual satisfaction. Anderson is certainly a director who knows better than most how to make use of space to convey meaning.

Moonrise Kingdom is also funny, but not the sort of funny that is easy to describe to someone later on. There are no recognisable 'jokes' in the film, but every scene has the potential for laughter. Most of the film's meaning is to be found in the visuals, and this is also true of the comedy; understated visual gags abound. However, it's the deadpan delivery and slightly militarised acting style (more Anderson signatures) that saturate every line with just the right amount of pithy brevity. The two main child actors, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, lead the way with remarkable restraint, but still manage to retain the all-important childlike attitude needed to make their romance the charming centrepiece it is meant to be. The rest of the ensemble function delightfully together under the deadpan banner; Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray make for amusingly angsty adults attempting to deal with the fallout of the children's actions.

Whether it was intentional or not, there was something about this film that kept reminding me of Anthony Schaffer's The Wicker Man. Ostensibly, the two films couldn't be more different, but similarities do exist which make them comparable: they are both set on small islands in enclosed communities where everybody knows each other; they both revolve around a missing child or children; they are both full of the repeated image of humans dressed as animals, and there is a vague, uneasy sense of being an outsider looking in at a society which we will never understand or be a part of. However, you will be pleased to know that, unlike The Wicker Man, the denouement of Moonrise Kingdom involves no grisly ritual murder whatsoever (in fact, it borders on the rather charmingly quaint).

The overall style of an Anderson film is far from being everbody's cup of tea. Anderson has been around for long enough now that those who enjoy his style of filmmaking know that they enjoy it and will accordingly turn up at the theatres for it; those who do not share his sense of humour, or appreciate his particular visual style, know to simply stay away from his films (and, of course, there are still many out there who have never even come across him at all). Even among those who love his films, it's a very rare Anderson fan who has good words to say for them all - most have at least one they dislike, or that they feel doesn't quite sit well alongside the others (most of this is usually directed at The Darjeeling Limited which, perversely, happens to be my favourite of his films), but this never boils over into outright hatred or hostility. It's very hard to work up any real hatred for a film by a director who can put a rug and a table-lamp in a tent.

And, there's a very cute kitten in it as well.

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