Monday, 28 May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

This latest from Wes Anderson won't convert any detractors but will further strengthen his loyal legions, despite performing the same old tricks denying this work as a career highlight would be plain asinine. Expect fireworks, library books, 60s pop, familial dysfunction, and some very offbeat humour, so basically expect the expected. Moonrise Kingdom is a touching coming of age tale despite Anderson's usual irritating tropes, but perhaps we should be over these by now instead of vainly willing for him to be.

The year is 1965 and two 12 year olds flee their New England island town together in hope to escape the trappings of their families. Both unhappy, orphan Sam and depressed Suzy find solace in each other and look for a life in the wilderness with help from Sam's cub scout survival skills. Despite their tender age they truly believe in their love but have to come to terms that the world isn't ready for it. As the island sets out a search party new layers of drama are revealed from the adults as we see the alienation and loneliness plaguing the youngsters also haunts the adults. It's tough being a kid, but does it get any easier?

Much noted is Anderson's influence from Francois Truffaut, here, the misguided innocent actions of our young central characters are reminiscent of Antoine Doinel from The 400 Blows (1959) as they try so hard to do what they think is right but always at the judgement of elders, never allowed to live at their own discretion. As Sam's foster family refuse to have him back he faces juvenile detention, Antoine also faced the same fate and the two are linked in misunderstandings, in Moonrise and Truffaut's film bad things happen to good people. Suzy brings to mind Margot Tenenbaum from Anderson's 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums though not for reasons of her adoption but for her blank morose manner, heavy eye make-up, and her resentment for her large overbearing family whom she feels rejected by. Sam and Suzy's meeting and planning of their escape is told in a brief but often hilarious flashback that charts their rising repellence of home life as well as their blossoming affection. It could be seen as an error to keep the backstory to a minimum, only dwelling lightly on the woes of our retreating couple, all the same, Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola understand the universality of their story having faith that much of their characters feelings would be inherent within audiences already. Had that faith wavered, the film could have become stale and patterned given the amount of existing 'coming of age' stories, luckily the film strides along nicely without the weight of cliches.

Bruce Willis and Edward Norton play against type as the geeky Island Policeman and Sam's Scout leader. Both are lonely men with a childlike quality to them, the film sees them searching for responsibility and purpose much like the children. Suzy's parents are standouts played by Francis McDormand and Anderson regular Bill Murray, many of the film's humorous highs come from their disfunction, and Tilda Swinton hilariously credited as 'Social Services' gives us another ice queen bereft of empathy. The real stars here though aren't stars at all; Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy convey their roles with confidence and finesse given this is an acting debut for both of them. The exchanges between them are dry and typically fitting for a film by Anderson but their love, confusion, and angst is all perfectly portrayed within this fairytale like world.

Like all of Anderson's films Moonrise Kingdom is stylised within an inch of its life with all of the director's trademarks on display at the forefront. This time the film doesn't feel as suffocated by its creators' haughty presence giving way for a more airy experience, feeling less smothered. Strange given the story takes place in a small shut off community but something works better here that hasn't been felt since Rushmore (1998), perhaps the decision to shoot on 16mm adding a more intimate look to the picture has helped, or the dominant exterior locations leading to a more simplistic approach. The film's humour also feels less contrived than past examples possibly helped by Coppola's influence; much of the laughter inducing moments catch you completely off guard, coming from the most unexpected of places. It's refreshing to know a Wes Anderson film still has the ability to confound.

How much you'll enjoy Moonrise Kingdom will depend largely on your affinity with Wes Anderson's style, despite that factor this marks a slightly more accessible turn from him as we've all wanted to run away from life at times, haven't we? With the assumed eye catching visual style, standout soundtrack, and dry-wit throughout, this latest may offer all the expected traits from this cult director and not much new, but with a story this relatable and well assembled there should hopefully be something for all.