Release date: October 1st, 2012
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce WIllis, Ed Norton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman
Ah, young love. We can all think back to the first special someone who stole our hearts and started us on the journey to understand what love truly is. Perhaps this was a girl a school, or a boy you met on summer vacation, or a crush on the babysitter. In the majority of occasions we grow out of those initial infatuations or have our hearts broken for the very first time – though there are a lucky few for whom they crystallise into a deeper long lasting bond.
Regardless of how our first love turned out, it’s rare for someone not to remember that initial kiss and those first moments fondly, even when we can look back through the cold prism of adulthood to dismiss those affections as childish. It also doesn’t diminish how vital that relationship was to the younger version of ourselves, or in helping to shape our feelings and outlooks later in life.
It’s this mixture of looking at puppy love through the lens of jaded middle-age and at the reality of the situation that makes Moonrise Kingdom Wes Anderson’s most emotionally mature and satisfying film to date. This doesn’t necessarily go arm in arm with being his best film or his funniest, for me that’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) on both counts, but there always seemed to be a little something lacking; a warm heart.
The screen is packed throughout with Anderson’s trademark visual style; every prop is selected with precision and his camera glides about in the way it always does. The opening shot of the house is entirely reminiscent of our introductory trip around The Belafonte.
As ever, the plot revolves around a dysfunctional family, surrounded by eccentric supporting players and each one delivers their dialogue in Anderson’s usual deadpan style. If you don’t find that style of humour funny usually, then Moonrise Kingdom is unlikely to change your mind. However, what it does have going for it, which the director hasn’t managed before, is a truly engaging emotional core made up of A.W.O.L. Khaki Scout, Sam (Jared Gilman) and depressive local girl Suzy (Kara Hayward). With an impending storm fast approaching the island of New Penzance, the two youngsters elope to a secret cove where they can be in love and live without the interference of the families and assorted grown-ups they despise.
Gilman and Hayward show understanding well beyond their years in their ability to deliver Anderson’s cool dialogue like veterans whilst giving the characters a tender, believable and compelling love story. Anderson displays a keen eye for realistically painting the awkward stage of adolescence at which the characters find themselves, whilst equipping them with older heads.
A scene in which they dance together on the beach of their secluded spot (the eponymous Moonrise Kingdom) is extremely funny and at the same time realistically awkward and heart-warming in equal measure. Unlike previous outings, the children are not just small adults; yes, they speak like them but in this film there’s a far deeper connection to the inner turmoil of the young lovebirds and it shows in every frame. Sam’s admission that he may wet the bed, or Suzy speculating about whether her breasts will grow with time are both wonderfully natural.
Comic support is provided by the fantastic wealth of actors playing alongside the central couple. Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) are extremely funny and sad as the tired couple struggling to stay together and bring up their children well. One scene in particular, that sees them talking in bed, has incredible pathos as they consider being parents together isn’t enough. Bruce Willis is on top form as the lonely bachelor policeman of the island, Captain Sharp, and Edward Norton is an inspired choice as the frustrated and failing Scout Master Ward. Add to the mix Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel and Anderson favourite Jason Schwartzman and you’ve got a fine cast to keep the consistent humour flowing.
Obviously, this isn’t going to be for everyone – Anderson certainly has his detractors – and even as a fan, the film took a little while to find its rhythm both narratively and comedically. As I said though, it’s the central love story which is key and what makes the film more satisfying than Anderson’s previous ventures. He casts a mocking gaze over their young love through the eyes of the adults of New Penzance but treats their love without contempt, perfectly portraying what the situations like on that first occasion.
A more uplifting and sensitive portrayal you’d be heard pressed to find.
Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.
His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.