Dir.: Wes Anderson.
With: Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray.
This is the eighth film by Wes Anderson, an American auteur from Texas but with a Nouvelle Vague soul. It opened the Cannes Film Festival this year.
It has been three years since Anderson’s last film, a stop-motion animation ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and now he returns with a story of twelve-year-old star-crossed lovers. Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are two massively unpopular but very wise kids, he is an orphaned boy scout and she is the eldest daughter of two lawyers. The platonic affair, carried through numerous (and very formally written) letters, culminates in a meticulously planned escape. As the couple trek through the island of New Penzance, they share their stories, symbolically consummate their relationship, pierce Suzy’s ears, and are heartbreakingly honest with each other (Sam informs Suzy he might wet the bed and Suzy tells him she is a ‘very troubled child’).
As the two fugitives enjoy romance and adventure, the adults pursuing them face crises of their own, for ‘to love both young and old surrender’. Mr and Mrs Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) struggle with their own failed marriage, Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) feels guilt and responsibility for Sam, and the island’s police force, represented by a single officer (Bruce Willis – best acting I’ve seen from him in a while), suffers from unrequited love and loneliness. The acting standard throughout the film is very high, in particular in Kara Hayward’s case. She has a deadpan intensity and broodiness that makes her character both endearing and slightly unnerving. A bittersweet feeling accompanies all the characters’ storylines. Anderson achieves the perfect balance of comedy and heartbreak and you have no choice but to sympathise with each and every one of them.
In short, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ addresses the same themes that can be found in all of his previous works: dysfunctional families, loss of innocence and alienation set against the background of an eccentric, highly stylised world. The thing about Anderson’s style of filmmaking is that it is so distinct and personalised that you end up either hating it or loving it – I fall within the latter category. I like the calculated quirkiness of his characters, the fabulous art direction and the mixture of comedy and drama. At the same time I can understand why people would hate it – as ‘Darjeeling Limited’ has shown, Anderson can be prone to self-indulgent, infantile stylisation without much substance. However, in this film he avoids this completely. His ability to show families from inside out, pointing out their troubles in a nuanced and subtle way, is unparalleled.